Alopecia Areata: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Alopecia areata is a condition characterized by rapid hair loss. It mainly affects hair on the head, but it can also affect other regions of the body, like the eyebrows, bears, legs and arms. 

In rare cases, the whole body can be affected and total hair loss is noted. This is referred to as universal alopecia areata. 

Alopecia areata, which is popularly referred to as solely alopecia, does not have a cure. Treatment depends on the quantity of hair loss experiences, but it typically involves the use of injections and ointments applied to the scalp to stimulate hair growth. Treatment is usually monitored by a dermatologist.

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Main symptoms

The most common symptom of alopecia is hair loss in a circular patches. It can occur anywhere on the body, but heavier hair loss is usually experienced at the scalp. 

Patches where hair loss has occurred are often white, smooth and shiny. 

Although there is a lack of hair in certain spots, the follicles are not destoyed in these areas. It is possible to reverse the loss with adequate treatment. It is common for hair that is regrown to first appear white before returning to its original color. 

Possible causes

Causes of alopecia are not completely well.known. It is thought that it is a multi-factorial condition that can be related to several things, like: 

  • Genetics
  • Autoimmune diseases, like vitiligo and lupus 
  • Stress 
  • Anxiety
  • Thyroid abnormalities 

It is important for the causes related to the alopecia to be identified, as treatment of these causes may help to improve symptoms and stimulate hair regrowth. 

Treatment options

Treatment should be guided by a dermatologist depending on the type of alopecia and the underlying cause. The dermatologist may recommend:

  • Cortisone injections: These are injected once per month in the areas where hair has fallen. The dermatologist may also advise the use of creams or lotions to apply following injections. 
  • Topical minoxydil: This is a liquid lotion applied twice per day in the areas of hair loss. It is not effective for total hair loss. 
  • Anthralin:  This is sold as a cream or ointment, and should be applied in the affected regions. Note that it may cause changes to skin color. Dosing of this medication should be at the discretion of the doctor. 

Severe cases of alopecia that results in hair loss in multiple areas of the body can be treated with corticosteroids and immunosuppressants as prescribed by the doctor.