Alopecia Areata affects around 15 in 10,000 people in the UK. is characterised by unexplained, non-scarring patchy hair loss which can vary in size from a small coin to much larger areas..
It occurs mostly on the scalp, but can affect any area of the body, and is most common in teenagers and young adults, but it can affect people of any age.
Why does Alopecia Areata occur?
It is not fully clear what causes Alopecia Areata but is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s immune system (which protects us from infections and unwanted intruders) mistakenly attacks itself.
In alopecia areata, the immune system attacks specific areas of hair follicles. Factors that increase the risk of alopecia areata are pre-existing autoimmune conditions such as specific types of thyroid disease, or vitiligo.
Having a family history of autoimmune diseases may increase the risk, and 20% of people with alopecia areata have someone else in their family with a history alopecia areata. Stress has sometimes been noted to being a trigger for alopecia areata.
Diagnosing Alopecia Areata
If you think you have alopecia areata then a health professional is able to confirm the diagnosis just by looking at the area affected. And, you don’t always need treatment as the hair usually returns. There are alternatives to medical treatments, which may include hair pieces.
You may prefer just to wait, sometimes using alternatives to hairpieces, haircare products and styling techniques to cover the hair loss in the meantime.
What treatments are available?
Whilst there is currently no cure, there are treatments available that can help slow down the hair loss and promote regrowth.
Usually the hair will grow back within a few months but the hair loss can reoccur in the same place or a different location. On very rare occasions people lose all their hair which is known as alopecia universalis.
The most common treatments for alopecia areata involve corticosteroids. These are steroids that work to reduce the activity of the immune system.
Most commonly topical steroid applications are used. The steroid application (cream or ointment) is applied directly to the bald patches, usually twice a day for a short period of time.
The most effective treatment however, are steroid injections directly to the areas affected. They are usually given every 4-6 weeks until hair growth is restored. Steroids can also be taken as tablets by mouth, however this may cause a variety of side effects if taken for longer periods including weight gain and high blood pressure. Usually when the treatment is stopped often the hair loss re-occurs however.
Other Skin Applications
Other skin applications can be used, such as dithranol. There is limited evidence to suggest it works, can irritate the skin, and cause discolouration of light hair. Some people have found improvements in hair growth. Minoxidil lotion can be used but the quality of hair growth is often not satisfactory as it tends to be quite fine.
Non-skin treatments include the use of Ultraviolet-A light (PUVA), and strong immunosuppressants, both which can have significant side effects and with varying and limited improvements in hair growth.
The most common medical treatments for alopecia areata involve multiple corticosteroid injections into the scalp or skin every four to six weeks, topical corticosteroids, minoxidil, anthralin ointment, (less commonly used), and topical immunotherapy.
Will it go away?
It is very hard to predict the course of alopecia areata and how well the patient will respond to treatment. The good news is that In 90% of cases, within 2 years, regrowth of the lost hair occurs with limited medical involvement. Medical intervention in these cases however will tend to see the highest success rate.
Further Information and Help with Alopecia Areata
If you are suffering with alopecia areata then you may considering treatments, and hopefully this article has given you some useful information. The Doctor Service is not currently providing treatment and you should seek further advice from your GP or a dermatologist. If you would like to look at our treatments available for male pattern baldness please visit The Doctor Service.
Check out non-prescription treatments for hair loss with Chemist.net