Hair Loss

Signs and Causes of Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. According to WebMD.com, hair loss results when the immune system attacks the source of hair growth: the hair follicles.

Alopecia areata strikes both men and women, usually under the age of 20-years old. However, the hair loss is usually only permanent for about 10-percent of alopecia patients, typically hair will regrow. Let’s learn more about alopecia areata…

Alopecia Areata Risk Factors

Although health experts are foggy on why the body attacks hair follicles, alopecia areata does seem to correspond with certain risk factors. For instance, genetics may play a role as the autoimmune disorder seems to occur in patients with a family history of the condition.

Also, WebMD notes that alopecia often occurs in patients with another existing autoimmune disease, as well as in those who struggle with allergies (or atrophy). Alopecia also often occurs prior to puberty.

Alopecia Hair Loss

The first sign of alopecia areata can be extremely shocking as it occurs with hair loss, typically in clumps that will present as circular patches without hair on the scalp. It can affect your eyebrows, eye lashes, and body hair. You may also notice suddenly that you have no hair on your arms or hair loss on the scalp may leave totally smooth, round hairless patches behind.

Alopecia may also cause drastic hair thinning without the loss of hair in clumps. Only in very few cases does hair completely fall out (on the body and scalp).

Will Hair Grow Back?

According to research published in the 2010 guide, Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies, hair loss in patches with alopecia areata will either leave bald patches or short stubs of broken hair (referred to as exclamation point hair) that grows back within a few months.

However, hair growth may be thinner as it grows back, in the same color and/or texture. Some patients do notice hair re-growth re-emerges fine and white in color.

Other Signs and Symptoms

Other than hair loss or thinning, alopecia areata often shows few accompanying symptoms. According to WebMD.com, some patients do develop changes to the shape, thickness, and texture of their finger and toe nails.

Alopecia areata patients may notice the nails become pitted in appearance and texture, developing a rough, divoted or dented surface.

Alopecia Areata Diagnosis

Diagnosing alopecia areata often starts with a patient’s medical history—including family history and history of hair loss.

An examination of the scalp may include a hair analysis, in which the doctor gently pulls out a few hairs to assess hair loss and the sample may be assessed by a lab. A blood test may be required to check for specific conditions relating to hair loss (i.e., to rule out thyroid issues).

Treating Alopecia Areata

Unfortunately there is no cure for alopecia areata, and patients who experience hair loss will almost always experience more.  However, treating the condition is possible, most commonly, with either corticosteroid topical treatments or injections administered directly into the scalp on a monthly to 6-week basis. Your doctor may also recommend using a hair growth foam or solution such as Rogaine to trigger new hair growth.

Other therapies for severe alopecia areata include oral medications.

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Catherine Roberts

Catherine is our go-to writer for women’s health news, diet trends and more. She’s dedicated to providing Activebeat readers with the information they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle every day.

Dr. Jenny Liu, MD

Dr. Jenny Liu, MD

Dr. Jenny Liu is a board-certified dermatologist and an assistant professor in the Twin Cities. Her academic interests are complex medical dermatology, ethnic dermatology and medical education. She uses her blog and Instagram (@derm.talk) to educate others on all things dermatology and share her own tips and tricks regarding skin care.

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