Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that affects approximately 145 million people around the world. The condition causes the body’s immune system to attack the hair follicles, leading to patchy hair loss on the scalp and occasionally the eyebrows and lower body. The condition is characterized by discrete hair loss patches that often range from a half-inch to two inches in diameter.
Alopecia areata typically affects the hair follicles. In some cases, however, it can also lead to changes in the nails, causing indentations, discoloration, and sometimes nail loss.
How did I get alopecia areata?
A genetic element is involved in alopecia areata; it is believed to be an inherited condition. However, it is also associated with – and exacerbated by – certain medical disorders, so it’s important to have a thorough medical checkup if you experience patchy hair loss anywhere on your body.
Fortunately, most people affected by alopecia areata are otherwise perfectly healthy, though the conditions that activate and de-activate alopecia-related hair loss are not yet fully understood. People with alopecia areata might experience an outbreak that corresponds with high stress, depression, or anxiety.
Can alopecia areata go away without treatment?
Alopecia areata affects everyone differently. Some people experience a bald patch or two in their youth, after which their hair grows back, and they never have another outbreak. Sometimes the hair regrows more sparsely. Some patients have full regrowth after an outbreak, but experience another bout of hair loss months or years later. In rare cases, however, the hair loss progresses to complete baldness. The differences in severity between patients are not understood, and outbreaks are difficult – sometimes impossible – to predict.
Can alopecia areata be cured?
There is no cure for any autoimmune disorder, but highly effective treatments are available. One treatment that has recently been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is a type of Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor that disrupts the immune system’s response to hair follicles. To date, the drug has been approved for the treatment of severe alopecia areata.
Additional treatments include the administration of corticosteroids in topical, injectable, or oral tablet form. Corticosteroids act as anti-inflammatory agents that block the immune system’s attack on hair follicles in people with mild symptoms. Many patients also achieve success with Minoxidil.