Alopecia areata: what is it and how do you recognize it?

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that creates a local inflammatory reaction around the hair roots, followed by bald spots on the affected hairy parts of the body. This disease usually occurs on the scalp, but damage to facial hair or pubic area is also possible. The bald spots are characterized by a round or oval shape and can vary in size. Sometimes alopecia areata is also found in the nails, this is reflected in fragility and crumbling of the nails.

In severe cases (5-10%), the main hair already falls out, also called alopecia totalis. In the event of a failure of all body hair, we speak of alopecia universalis, which only occurs in 1-2% of patients.

Who can be affected by alopecia areata?

Alopecia areata occurs with approximately 0,05-0,1% of the population, regardless of gender or age. However most patients get their first bald spots before the age of 40. There is also a higher chance to be affected by alopecia areata if this disease occurs in your family. Study shows that with 1 out of 10 patients genes plays a significant role.

What are the causes?

The exact causes of alopecia areata are unknown. Patients that suffer from alopecia areata often suffer from other autoimmune diseases as well. Think of thyroid disorders or forms of eczema, allergies and anemia.

In some cases alopecia areata surfaces because of stress, an infection or with the use of medication. These factors don’t cause the disease but they can activate the disease.

What is the course of alopecia areata?

The course of alopecia areata is different for each patient. However, in 70-80% of the cases the hair grows back within 2 years. The inflammation only affects the hairs and not the hair roots. When the inflammation heals, the hair growth often returns back to normal.

The chance for the hair to grow back is smaller when:

  • The hairline on the scalp has been affected
  • The hair loss has started during childhood
  • The patient also suffers from other autoimmune diseases

What are the treatment options?

Because the cause of alopecia areata is still unknown, the best treatment is still uncertain. At first, the doctor will wait for the hair to return. Nevertheless, there are some treatment options that can be followed if desired. The treatment method depends on the stage the patient with Alopecia areata is in.

Dermatologists generally prescribe the following treatments:

  • Medications: Corticosteroids, Ciclosporin, Dithranol or Minoxidil
  • Local immunotherapy
  • Gene therapy
  • Light therapy
  • Ultraviolet treatment
  • Stimulation therapy
  • Psychodermatology
  • Alternative cure

Hair transplantation is discouraged because the transplanted hair may fall out again.

For personal advice you can make an appointment at one of our certified Mediceuticals® salons.