What is Alopecia Areata (AA)?
Alopecia Areata is a hair loss condition that is characterized by the development of smooth areas of baldness, frequently in circular patches. The areas of hair loss not only occur on the scalp, but can result in bald patches on any part of the body. The conditions can occur in children or adults of all ages.
What is the cause of Alopecia Areata (AA)?
AA is an autoimmune disease in which immune cells for unknown reasons attacks the hair follicles resulting in the loss of hair.
What are the symptoms?
The only symptom of AA is usually the loss of hair; it can start as nickel or quarter sized patches that can progressively enlarge or multiply. In extreme cases, all of the hair can be lost on the scalp which is referred to as Alopecia Totalis. Other symptoms include smaller patches of hair loss on beards, eyebrows or eyelashes. Very, very rarely all of the hair can be lost on the entire body which is called Alopecia Totalis. Occasionally some individuals notice itching or tenderness associated with the hair loss but the scalp usually feels normal in the areas of hair loss.
How is it diagnosed?
Most dermatologists can diagnose AA based upon the appearance of the baldness.
Individuals with AA may also have other associated medical conditions such as vitiligo, type 1 diabetes, or thyroid disease for example. Hair strand analysis performed by microscopic evaluation can also help to diagnose AA.
What tests are needed?
Besides examining pieces of hair under the microscope, a physician may also order tests:
- Skin Biopsy for diffuse, atypical cases
- Blood tests to determine other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid and type 1 diabetes
What is the expected duration?
The duration of this condition varies widely. Some spots go away in a few months and never come back again. Other individuals experience the condition for years and in extreme cases such as alopecia totalis, it can persist lifelong.
How can it be prevented?
There are no preventative methods.
Treatment can include corticosteroid shots or creams to be applied topically into the hair loss area. Other treatments can include other types topical creams such as DPCP (Diphencyprone) that include inflammation fighting ingredients. Often, a combination of medications are used to fight the inflammation and induce hair growth.
Recent medical studies have shown Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) to significantly help individuals with extensive AA.
When to contact a professional
An appointment with a dermatologist or hair specialist must be made at the first sign of a bald spot.
The outcome can be cyclical. Treatment can work in a matter of months. Yet, then the very same hair loss cycle can occur again. Finding a way to permanently resolve the inflammation is key to success. The Alopecia Areata Foundation is an organization that supports research in this area, https://www.naaf.org/ .