Alopecia areata is a type of hair loss that occurs in small circular patches. Unlike other forms of hair loss, alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease. Some people’s hair loss improves with treatment, while others’ alopecia areata may go away without any treatment at all.
The main symptom of alopecia areata is a loss of hair, either on the head or other parts of the body, that occurs in a small circular area. The condition is often temporary and the hair regrows on its own, but it may also develop into further hair loss, including a total loss of head hair, called alopecia totalis, or a loss of all body hair, called alopecia universalis, explains the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
The cause of alopecia areata is an immune system dysfunction, in which the immune system attacks hair follicles in a particular area on the skin or scalp, explains the Cleveland Clinic. No one knows why it develops, although there may be a genetic component. Autoimmune disorders, including diabetes, lupus and thyroid disease make developing alopecia areata more likely.
The topical drug Rogaine may be used to treat alopecia areata and hair often regrows after 12 or more weeks of use, explains the Cleveland Clinic. Anti-inflammatory drugs called corticosteroids are also used to treat alopecia areata. Corticosteroids help control the autoimmune reaction and prevent the immune system from attacking cells in the body. Other treatments for alopecia areata include a drug called Psoriatec; topical sensitizers that irritate the area and cause hair to regrow; ultraviolet light therapy; and steroid injections. Sometimes, hair lost due to alopecia areata regrows itself and the disease disappears, even after years of having a bald spot. This remission may be permanent or temporary.
Since alopecia areata sometimes resolves without treatment, some people prefer to use nonmedical methods to cope with the problem. Reducing stress levels may help prevent further occurrences of alopecia areata and may allow the condition to correct itself. Head coverings, such as wigs, hats, or scarves, can be used to hide areas of hair loss and protect remaining hair from the elements.
Alopecia areata may sometimes be mistaken for other diseases that cause hair loss or baldness. Androgenic alopecia, also known as male pattern baldness, is a more common and well-known form of hair loss that may be confused with alopecia areata. Telogen effluvium, hair loss caused by emotional trauma or shock, and traction alopecia, caused by physical tugging or pulling on the hair, may be other causes of hair loss, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Determining the precise cause of hair loss is essential to treating it properly.