It is circular patches of hair loss. They appear suddenly, most often affecting the scalp. Anyone can be affected. The condition can include the loss of all hair on the head (alopecia totalis), and even the loss of all hair on the body (alopecia universalis). It is not contagious.
What causes alopecia areata?
It is possibly an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system starts to reject the hair for unknown reasons. It may occur in more than one member of the family. Such families may develop other autoimmune diseases, such as pernicious anaemia.
Other possible causes of hair loss are fungal infection, emotional distress, and male or female pattern baldness.
What are the symptoms?
There are three main stages. Initially there is sudden loss of hair, then enlargement of the patches of hair loss. Lastly new hair grows back, although this can take months, sometimes years. It may grow back grey or white. It does not result in a physical disability, but it can be emotionally very distressing.
What is the treatment?
· Seek advice from your doctor who might refer you to a dermatologist
· A cortisone injection into the area of hair loss can sometimes speed up hair re-growth, but only in the area of the injection
· Lotions applied to the scalp may result in temporary improvement in some people, but as soon as they are stopped, the hair may fall out again
· Steroid creams may help
· With extensive hair loss there is no reliable treatment. Steroid pills are used in relatively few patients with alopecia areata, due to health risks from prolonged use. Also, re-grown hair is likely to fall out when the pills are stopped.