Hair Loss from Alopecia Areata

Hair loss is troubling for both men and women, for cosmetic as well as health reasons. Exactly how and why hair loss happens can vary from person to person. One condition that can result in body and scalp hair loss is alopecia areata. Though it is related to an autoimmune system abnormality, the specific mechanisms that cause it remain a mystery.

Fast Facts About Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is a condition that causes hair loss in small, disk shaped patches. The hair loss can occur anywhere on the body — it may involve the scalp hair or hair of eyebrows, eyelashes, or arms and legs.

Nearly 4 million people in the United States, or up to 2 percent of the population, will experience alopecia areata at some point in their lives. Just about anyone can get alopecia areata — men and women of any age and any ethnic background, though it does seem to happen to young adults and children more than other age groups. About 20 percent of those affected have a family history of it, so if you have close relatives with the condition, you are at a greater risk of getting it.

In about 5 percent of cases, the hair loss is severe, involving one of these two conditions:

  • Alopecia universalis, which is the complete loss of all hair on the body
  • Alopecia totalis, which is the complete loss of all scalp hair

There are no real symptoms apart from the hair loss. You may experience itchiness in an area where hair loss is about to take place, and some people may have slight nail abnormalities, such as extremely small indentations.

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Possible Causes of Alopecia Areata

One of the most frustrating aspects of alopecia areata is that its cause remains a mystery. It's thought that alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease, meaning that it's brought on by an abnormal reaction within your immune system, which attacks healthy cells in the body — your hair cells are mistakenly perceived as foreign invaders. The immune system destroys the hair follicles, resulting in hair loss. Unfortunately, experts don't know what triggers the autoimmune response that leads to alopecia areata.

Treating Alopecia Areata

Hair loss due to alopecia areata can be temporary — in many cases, the hair eventually grows back. But the condition can go on for years before this happens, and once regrowth begins, hair may initially come in with a different color or texture than your original hair. Also, you may experience more episodes of hair loss later on — another frustrating aspect of alopecia areata.

There is no way to cure alopecia areata, but medications are available to help keep the immune system in check, regrow hair, and prevent hair loss as much as possible. Treatment options for alopecia areata include:

  • Anthralin. This topical medication is a manmade tar, and it works to counteract the immune system’s misfiring and help promote the regrowth of hair.
  • Rogaine (minoxidil). This topical medication is rubbed into the skin where hair loss has occurred to help new hair grow.
  • Corticosteroids. These medications attempt to keep the immune system from attacking hair follicles, therefore preventing a flare-up and hair loss. Corticosteroid injections in the bald patches of skin, topical creams, and pills are the delivery options.

Alopecia areata can be a difficult disease to cope with emotionally, particularly for children. Certain medications can minimize its effects and help promote healthy hair regrowth, but patience and creative hair styling (when it occurs on the scalp) will also boost your outlook and confidence level.

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