Alopecia Areata: Types, Causes, Symptoms, And Treatments


Alopecia Areata is a common autoimmune disorder that causes your hair to come out leading to unpredictable hair loss. In this condition, hair loss usually occurs in clumps of the size and shape of a quarter. It’s frequency is different in everyone. You may get it only in a few spots while others can lose a lot. Your hair may grow, sometimes, back but may fall out again later. While, in others hair may grow back for good.

This skin condition has been estimated to affect 6.8 million people in the United States. Majority cases of alopecia areata cause hair loss in small patches probably around the size of a quarter. But the hair loss is nothing more than a few patches, for most people, in some other cases it can be more severe. It can affect irrespective of your age and gender, though most cases have been recprded before the age of 30.

In this article, we will discuss the types, causes, complications, and symptoms of alopecia areata, its prognosis, and potential treatments.

What are the different types of Alopecia areata?

In all forms of alopecia areata, your body’s immune system attacks your healthy follicles of hair. As a result, they become much smaller and eventually slow down production to the point that hair growth may retard. Alopecia areata has different types but is more common in its original form. Other more rare types of this skin condition include:

  • Alopecia areata totalis– occurs when you have lost all the hair on your head. This condition can affect up to 5% of patients with autoimmune hair loss.
  • Alopecia areata universalis– occurs as a result of the loss of hair over your whole body. It may affect less than 1% of cases.
  • Diffuse alopecia areata– also called alopecia areata incognita, means sudden thinning of your hair instead of losing patches. It can be present with sudden diffuse alopecia and if the condition persists, hair tends to grey leading to the descriptions of turning white overnight. You should not confused diffuse alopecia areata with telogen effluvium or hair loss due to medications.
  • Ophiasis alopecia areata- causes loss of hair in a band shape around the back and sides of your head. The affected bald area may encircle the scalp.
  • Alopecia areata of the nails– Nail diseases have been reported to affect (10–50%) by alopecia areata. Regular pitting and ridging are the most common symptoms. It can also cause red spots on the lunula, onychorrhexis trachyonychia, Beau lines, onycholysis, onychomadesis and koilonychia.

It usually depends on which type and severity of the alopecia areata you have, your hair loss and regrowth might be cyclical, develop again and again, or unpredictable for many years.

Can your child inherit alopecia areata from you?

If you’re an adult with alopecia areata, you would be concerned about the chances of transferring the disease to your children. It’s almost impossible to predict whether or not your child will get the condition even though alopecia areata is so complicated.

Research reports that there are multiple factors including both genetic and environment factors that are required in order to trigger the disease, but not mere simply family inheritance. In fact, in most of the cases, parents do not pass alopecia areata along to their children.

What Causes Alopecia areata?

Alopecia areata occurs when your immune system especially T cells attack the cells of hair follicles (the structures from which hairs grow). These CD8(+)NK group 2D-positive (NKG2D(+)) T cells produce chemokines and pro-inflammatory cytokines which retard the hair growth. Cells become to shrink and slow down hair production dramatically.

Yet, it is not understood accurately what causes the body’s immune system to target the hair follicles in this way. But the onset of hair loss may sometimes be triggered by trauma, hormonal change, emotional or physical stressors, and viral infection.

Scientists are still working on why these changes take place. It has been reported that you are more likely to get it if you have a close family member with the disease, so genetics can be involve as one of the causes of alopecia areata. Certain factors in the environment can also trigger alopecia areata if you are genetically predisposed to it. Another research has found that if you have a family history of alopecia areata, you will also be seen with a personal or family history of several other autoimmune disorders like atopy, a disease caused by a tendency to be hyperallergic, vitiligo, and thyroiditis, 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Complications of alopecia areata

The condition can be temporary or persistent, but more complicated or persistent condition increases the risk that alopecia areata can result in psychosocial consequences of their disease, like depression and anxiety.

When you are diagnosed with alopecia areata, you should better assess for vitiligo, atopy, thyroid disease, or other autoimmune conditions.

What kinds of symptoms are associated with alopecia areata?

Hair loss is one of the most common symptoms of the disease. There is no certain way to predict that specific pattern of hair fall out of regrowth you can experience or how complicated or long lasting it will be.

Still, there are a few common symptoms of alopecia areata that you must know to recognize the disease.

  • Formation of small, oval patches of hair loss on the scalp, beard part of the face and other parts of the body with hair
  • Regrowth and hair loss at the same time in different areas of the skin
  • Growth of white hair in the affected areas of skin
  • Falling out of hair that can be on one side of the scalp, rather than both sides
  • Appearing of pinpoint dents
  • Formation of the exclamation point hairs that are quite narrow at the base to the scalp
  • Rough appearance of the nails along with complete absence of shine
  • Stippling or Pitting on the fingernails

The better way to identify if you have alopecia areata is to make an appointment with your health care provider and get it treated as soon as possible.

What can be the prognosis for Alopecia areata?

The prognosis for alopecia areata is unpredictable. Once this autoimmune condition occurs, you might have to set up with bouts of hair fall and other related signs for the rest of your life. You, nonetheless, can experience hair loss just once in your life.

Recovery also goes with the same variation, full regrowth of hair, no growth, or even additional hair loss. In alopecia areata, early age of onset, extensive hair loss, genetics as discussed above, and nail changes are associated with poor outcomes.

How to cope with alopecia areata?

Yet no cure for alopecia areata has been discovered. Several topical treatments are used to lower the symtoms, such as potent or ultrapotent topical steroids, minoxidil solution or foam, or dithranol (anthralin) ointment.

You should not feel yourself alone, as the condition can prove emotionally challenging for some of you; try making a few lifestyle changes can help cope with alopecia.

You may look to apply extensions, eyebrow stencils, wigs, or eyelash. Teenagers and young adults with partial or complete bald heads can clip suction cups to wigs and hair pieces so it won’t fall off while playing or walking.

In case your eyebrows are affected by hair loss, you can consider an eyebrow pencil, microblading, and eyebrow tattoos. Microblading is a semipermanent technique including tattoos that helps filling the eyebrows using hairlike strokes giving a more natural look than the traditional eyebrow tattoos and it usually prolongs for one to three years.

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