Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that leads to hair loss. While the cause of alopecia areata is not fully understood, it is believed that the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles, leading to hair loss.
Alopecia areata can occur in people of all ages and both sexes, and can cause varying degrees of hair loss. For some people, alopecia areata is a relatively mild condition that causes only a small amount of hair loss. However, for others alopecia areata can be quite severe and result in total baldness.
If you have been diagnosed with alopecia areata, this patient guide will provide you with information on the disease, its causes, signs & symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options and how to manage or live with it.
What is Alopecia Areata?
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that leads to hair loss. The exact cause of alopecia areata is unknown, but it is believed to be related to the body’s immune system attacking the hair follicles. This leads to inflammation and ultimately, hair loss.
Alopecia areata can occur in people of any age or gender, and can cause varying degrees of hair loss. For some people, alopecia areata is a relatively mild condition that causes only a small amount of hair loss. However, for others alopecia areata can be quite severe and result in total baldness
There is no known cure for alopecia areata, but there are treatment options available that can help to manage the condition and promote hair growth.
What Causes Alopecia Areata?
The exact cause of alopecia areata is unknown. However, it is believed to be an autoimmune condition, which means that the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake. In the case of alopecia areata, it is thought that the immune system attacks the hair follicles, leading to inflammation and ultimately, hair loss.
There are several factors that may contribute to the development of alopecia areata, including
- Family history: If you have a family member with alopecia areata, you are more likely to develop the condition yourself.
- Stress: Stressful life events have been linked to the development of alopecia areata.
- Medical conditions: Some medical conditions, such as thyroid problems or diabetes, may increase your risk of developing alopecia areata.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Alopecia Areata?
The most common symptom of alopecia areata is patches of hair loss. These bald patches may be round or oval in shape, and can occur on the scalp, face, or other areas of the body
In some cases, hair loss may be more extensive and lead to total baldness (known as alopecia totalis). In even rarer cases, the condition may affect the entire body (known as alopecia universalis).
Other symptoms of alopecia areata may include
- itching or burning sensation on the scalp
- short, broken hairs at the edge of a bald patch (known as exclamation point hairs)
- changes in nail texture, such as pitting or ridges
How Is Alopecia Areata Diagnosed?
Alopecia areata is typically diagnosed based on a physical examination and review of your medical history. Your doctor will also ask about any family history of hair loss or autoimmune conditions
A biopsy may also be conducted in order to rule out other conditions that may cause hair loss, such as fungal infections or scalp disorders. In a biopsy, a small sample of skin is removed and examined under a microscope.
How Is Alopecia Areata Treated?
There is no known cure for alopecia areata, but there are treatments available that can help to manage the condition and promote hair growth. The best treatment approach will depend on the severity of your hair loss
- Mild alopecia areata: If you have mild alopecia areata (i.e., only a few bald patches), your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medicated creams or ointments. These products typically contain corticosteroids, which can help to reduce inflammation and promote hair growth.
- Moderate to severe alopecia areata: If you have moderate to severe alopecia areata (i.e., extensive baldness or total baldness), your doctor may recommend topical or injected corticosteroids, immunotherapy, or light therapy
- Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medications that can be applied topically to the scalp or injected into the affected area. They can help to reduce inflammation and promote hair growth.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy involves using drugs that help to suppress the immune system. This helps to reduce the inflammation that is causing the hair loss.
- Light therapy: Light therapy involves using a special device that emits ultraviolet (UV) light. This helps to reduce the inflammation that is causing the hair loss.
What Is the Outlook for People With Alopecia Areata?
The outlook for people with alopecia areata is generally good. The condition often goes into remission on its own, and hair may regrow even without treatment
However, there is no guarantee that the hair loss will not recur, and in some cases, it may progress to more severe forms of alopecia such as alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis. If you have any concerns, be sure to speak with your doctor.