Alopecia areata is a condition that causes hair to fall out in small patches, which can be unnoticeable. These patches may connect, however, and then become noticeable. The condition develops when the immune system attacks the hair follicles, resulting in hair loss.
Sudden hair loss may occur on the scalp and in some cases the eyebrows, eyelashes, and face, as well as other parts of the body. It can also develop slowly and recur after years between instances.
The condition can result in total hair loss, called alopecia universalis, and it can prevent hair from growing back. When hair does grow back, it’s possible for the hair to fall out again. The extent of hair loss and regrowth varies from person to person.
Alopecia areata Diagnosis
See your doctor if you are experiencing significant hair loss. There are many reasons for hair loss. Your doctor will look at your hair loss pattern. He or she will review your medical history. They will check to see if the hairless areas of your scalp are smooth and peach-colored. Sometimes, the remaining hair in alopecia areata has a specific shape. Your doctor may pull a couple of hairs from your head to examine under a microscope. If your doctor can’t confirm a diagnosis, he may send you to a lab for a test. They will scrape a small sample of skin from your scalp and look at it under a microscope. This can help them rule out other conditions that cause hair loss. You may also have a blood test to look for other autoimmune diseases.
Alopecia areata Treatment
There’s currently no cure for alopecia areata. However, there are treatments that may help hair grow back more quickly and that can prevent future hair loss, as well as unique ways to cover up the hair loss. Resources are also available to help people cope with stress related to hair loss.
If you have a few, small patches of hair loss on your head, it’s likely your hair will grow back within a few months. Your doctor may not prescribe treatment in those cases.
For larger areas of hair loss, your doctor may prescribe steroid injections under your scalp. This could help regrow your hair. Other treatments include hair growth medicines that contain steroids that you apply to your skin.
Contact immunotherapy is another treatment. It purposely causes an allergic reaction on your scalp that could trigger hair growth. With this treatment, the medicine that is applied to your scalp irritates your skin, making it red and scaly. It could take as long as three months to see hair growth if this treatment works. Contact immunotherapy does have side effects, including a severe rash and swollen lymph nodes in your neck.
No matter what therapy you try, hair loss usually returns when you stop treatment.