Alopecia Areata

What is Alopecia Areata?

Alopecia areata is a health condition in which hair is lost from some or all areas of the body, usually from the scalp. Alopecia areata occurs worldwide and affects both males and females in every ethnic group. Children and young adults are the most frequently affected, but people of all ages are susceptible. There is a slightly increased risk of having alopecia areata if you have a close family member with the disease.

What Causes Alopecia Areata?

Alopecia areata is an auto-immune disease in which the body's immune system attacks itself, in this case, the hair follicle. Certain chemicals that are a part of the immune system called cytokines may play a role in alopecia areata by inhibiting the hair follicle growth. Some studies show that emotional stress may also cause alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is sometimes associated with other autoimmune conditions such as allergic disorders, thyroid disease, vitiligo, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis. Sometimes, alopecia areata occurs within family members, and may be passed down from generation to generation.

What are Signs and Symptoms of Alopecia Areata?

  • Alopecia areata is most common on the scalp, but can involve any part of the body which has hair, including eyebrows, eyelashes, and beards.
  • It usually begins with one or more small, round, coin-size, bare patches.
  • There may be minor discomfort or itching in the affected areas of your scalp.
  • In the areas of baldness, the hairs are very short, broken, and narrow. They look like exclamation points and are sometimes called "exclamation point hairs".
  • Some people affected with alopecia areata can have irregularities on their fingernail surfaces, such as small dents or grooves. This may also appear as surface splitting or redness.

Will the Hair Grow Back?

When you suffer from alopecia areata, it is unfortunate that no one is able to answer the question, "Will my hair grow back?" We just don't know. In some cases, where there are small patches, and they've appeared quite suddenly and remained small, re-growth is quite often spontaneous. If they begin to spread, the greater the area that is covered, the less chance of recovery, is the general rule, but not always. The potential for re-growth is always there, even in people who lose all the hair on their scalp and body. Hair could re-grow white or fine, but the original hair colour and texture may return later.

What Treatments are Available?

There is no cure for alopecia areata; however there are many treatments that may help.

  • Corticosteroids: are anti-inflammatory drugs that suppress the immune system. Corticosteroids can be given as local injections, taken as pills, or rubbed into the affected areas. Your doctor can inject steroid injections every three to six weeks into the hairless patches on your scalp, eyebrows, and beard areas. The hair can begin to grow four weeks after injections. Topical steroids are less effective than local injections. Steroids taken orally can have potential side effects.
  • Topical Minoxidil 5% Solution: is an antihypertensive vasodilator medication also known for its ability to slow or stop hair loss and promote hair re-growth. Minoxidil 5% solution applied twice daily to the scalp, eyebrow, and beard areas may promote hair growth in both adults and children. You may notice hair re-growth in twelve weeks.
  • Anthralin: is a synthetic tar-like substance that alters immune function in the affected skin. The tar-like substance is applied for 20 to 60 minutes then washed off. It is available as creams, ointment or pastes in 0.1 to 2% strengths.
  • Wigs, hats, or scarves are other options that are available, and do not interfere with hair re-growth.

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