Alopecia areata

Walk-in Dermatology > Alopecia areata

What is alopecia areata?

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition where your immune system attacks your own body, directly attacking hair follicles and causing clumps of hair to fall out.

In rare cases you can lose all the hair on your head (alopecia areata totalis) or your entire body (alopecia areata universalis). The condition affects different people in different ways. Some people will regrow hair only for it to fall out later in the same or a different location. In other people, the hair grows back and remains.

What causes alopecia areata?

The exact cause of alopecia areata is unknown, although the National Institutes of Health note that most evidence points to an autoimmune disease that includes both genetic and environmental factors. About 20 percent of people with alopecia areata have a family history of the condition.

How dermatologists diagnose alopecia areata

Your dermatologist may be able to diagnose alopecia areata simply by examining the area of hair loss. It might be necessary to pull a few hairs for closer inspection under a microscope, or your dermatologist may need to remove a small piece of skin from the area for further testing.

How dermatologists treat alopecia areata

Presently there are no universal treatments for alopecia areata that work for everyone. Your dermatologist will develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and built around your medical history.

Treatment options include topical steroid creams and scalp applications applied directly to bald patches, usually twice a day, or steroid injections into the affected area.

Steroid tablets in large doses may help regrow hair, but when the treatment stops the alopecia can recur. This treatment is not a long-term solution due to the potential side effects, including high blood pressure, diabetes, stomach ulcers, cataracts and osteoporosis (weakening bones).

Dithranol cream, which is normally used to treat a skin irritation called psoriasis, may stimulate hair regrowth. Another approach is ultraviolet light treatment two or three times weekly. Relapse of the alopecia is common when the treatment stops.

Immunosuppressant tablets are sometimes prescribed to treat severe alopecia areata that does not respond to other treatments.

If you are concerned about alopecia areata, click here to schedule an appointment with our board-certified dermatologists or walk into Walk-in Dermatology at your convenience for immediate evaluation.