Alopeca Areata (AA) causes small, round patches of hair loss and occurs in nearly 2 percent of the U.S. population. It most frequently affects children and young adults, but can occur in people of all ages, in both genders and every ethnic group. One in five patients has a family with AA.
AA is an autoimmune disorder that occurs for unknown reasons, in which the body's immune system attacks the hair follicle causing hair loss. It is not contagious.
Alopeca Areata (AA) usually starts with one or more coin-size bare spots commonly on the scalp, but possible in any every that grows hair including eyebrows, lashes and beards. Hair usually regrows with time, but other bare patches may develop. The number of bare patches and the rate of regrow varies from person to person. Some lose a few patches of hair which regrows and the condition never returns. Others may lose and regrow hair for years. Even in people who lose all the hair on their scalp and body, there is the potential for full regrowth eventually.
AA is not a symptom of a serious disease and usually occurs in otherwise healthy people. Those with AA may have a higher risk for eczema, asthma and nasal allergies as well as other autoimmune disorders.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Dermatologist can usually diagnose AA by examining the scalp. Occasionally, a scalp biopsy is helpful in confirming the diagnosis. There is no cure for AA. Treatments may promote hair growth, but new patches of hair loss may continue to appear.
Potential treatment options may include one or a combination of the following:
Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs that suppress the immune system. The medication can be taken orally, given as injections into affected areas or rubbed into the skin. Injections given every 3 to 6 weeks, are more effective than steroids rubbed into affected areas and hair regrowth usually begins after about 4 weeks. Oral corticosteroids are not routinely used because of potential side effects, but may be prescribed in some circumstances.
Topical minoxidil is a solution applied twice daily to affected areas, which may promote new hair growth in adults and children with AA usually in about 12 weeks.
Anthralin is a synthetic tar-like substance that alters the immune function in the affected skin. It is applied for 20 to 60 minutes then washed off to avoid skin irritation.
New therapies, including some that act on the immune system, are being explored and researchers continue to advance the search for treatments for alopecia areata.
Living with AA
Hair loss can be challenging to live with emotionally and affect your self-image. Wearing a head covering, such as a wig, scarf, hat or cap, can hide the condition and help you feel better about your appearance while hair regrows. The board-certified dermatologists at Dermatology and Skin Surgery can help make living with AA easier by providing the right treatment option for each patient to make hair regrowth faster.