Alopecia Areata – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Alopecia areata affects men, women and children of all ages. While the resulting hair loss is not always permanent, the bald patches and thinning characteristic of this condition can cause sever loss of self-esteem. This article outlines the causes and symptoms of the disease and offers some suggestions for treatment.

Causes of Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder which causes the body's natural defense system to attack the follicles, damaging them and impairing their ability to produce hair. Although the damage is not always permanent, alopecia areata is a chronic disease with no known cure. Hair loss typically occurs periodically, with phases of hair loss and re-growth. In some cases, especially when the disease begins in early childhood, the loss of hair can become permanent.

While doctors do not completely understand why the disease occurs, there are some known risk factors. You are more likely to develop this condition if you:

  • have a family history of the disorder;
  • have problems with allergies;
  • have another autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes;
  • have unusually textured, colored, or shaped fingernails and toenails.

Alopecia Areata Symptoms

The bald patterns associated with this disorder are typically small, round patches of hairlessness on the scalp. The loss of hair can also occur as a general thinning, rather than visible bald patches. In some cases, an individual may lose all the hair on his or her scalp and body.

Balding can come and go; you may experience hair loss in one area, then begin to re-grow the hair, only to begin losing hair in another area.

Your doctor can diagnose alopecia areata by a description of your symptoms, a physical examination of your pattern of balding, and laboratory testing of a hair sample.

Treatment Options

While hair that is lost due to alopecia areata normally grows back on its own within a year, many people choose to treat the balding for cosmetic reasons.

The most common treatment for alopecia areata is injecting corticosteroids at the sites that are affected; topical steroids may also be used in conjuction with a topical hair loss treatment such as minoxidil.