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Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss in both children and adults. It often begins with a few bald spots on the scalp. It is possible to lose hair anywhere on your body, though. Some people have noticeable hair loss on their eyebrows and/or eyelashes. Men can also lose facial hair that causes patches of bare skin in the beard area.
This disease causes your immune system to mistakenly attack the body’s hair follicles, as it would germs. This causes the hair in those follicles to fall out and stop growing.
This varies from person to person. It is likely that your hair will regrow, but it also may fall out again. This cycle of hair loss and regrowth is unpredictable. Some people will lose their hair only once and never have more hair loss. The amount of hair involved also varies. Some people develop a few bald patches, while others may lose most of their hair.
When the hair starts to regrow, it may grow in white or blond in color, and finer than before. This is usually temporary. With time, your natural hair color and texture often return.
Aside from hair loss, people with alopecia areata also may notice:
Most people who develop this autoimmune skin disease are otherwise healthy and do not develop other autoimmune diseases.
Having one autoimmune disease, though, may increase the risk of developing another one, such as thyroid disease or vitiligo, a condition in which patients lose pigmentation of their skin. People who have alopecia areata also may have a higher risk of developing an allergic condition such as eczema, asthma, or nasal allergies.
It is estimated that more than 6.5 million people in the United States have alopecia areata. This disease usually begins in children and young adults, but it can start at any age. People of all races and sexes get alopecia areata. About one-fifth of the people who get alopecia areata have a blood relative who has the disease.
A dermatologist can often diagnose this disease by looking at the areas with hair loss. Sometimes, your dermatologist will need to remove a few hairs or perform a biopsy of the bald area. To perform a biopsy, your dermatologist will remove some skin and examine it under a microscope. Your dermatologist may also look at your scalp using a dermatoscope.
This will help in visualizing the affected hair follicles and in confirming the diagnosis. If your dermatologist suspects you might have another autoimmune disease, additional testing may be necessary. There are three types of hair loss you can be diagnosed with:
Many people find that their hair regrows without treatment. Hair regrowth can be slow, though. You may not see the hair regrowth you expect.
Dermatologists can treat patients affected by alopecia areata. Patients often get more than one treatment at a time. Combining treatments often boosts success.
Alopecia areata of the eyelash
When a patient has extensive hair loss, a treatment plan may include:
New treatment options that are being researched for the treatment of alopecia areata include Janus kinase inhibitors, or JAK inhibitors. Recent studies suggest that these medications can disrupt the immune response that fuels alopecia areata. This treatment is also being studied for eczema and vitiligo.
Some people want to avoid medicine. Others have trouble coping with hair loss while treatment is ongoing or if treatment has failed. For these people, the following options can be helpful:
A board-certified dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in treating the medical, surgical, and cosmetic conditions of the skin, hair, and nails. To learn more about alopecia areata, visit aad.org or call toll free (888) 462-DERM (3376) to find a board-certified dermatologist in your area.
All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides
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