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How to Treat Alopecia Areata

The term alopecia areata refers to the body losing hair, usually at the scalp. This can result in thinning hair, hair falling out, or complete baldness. In many cases, the head is only balding in spots, which can make it a very embarrassing disease. In about one to two percent of alopecia areata cases, the person can lose their hair on the entire body. The problem does not only affect men, but also can affect women as well, although the number of men with the disease is larger and more common. It can affect people who are generally overall healthy, and have no other underlying health issues. The problem usually begins in the teenage years and becomes more pronounced as the patient gets older, but usually affects people who are in their early 30s and older. There are several different types of alopecia areata, meaning the hair loss or baldness can affect different areas of the body. Some versions affect the pubic hair areas; some types can only affect facial hair and beards.

  • NAAF – This is an organization that represents sufferers nationwide. Provides good resources and information for patients who are dealing with the disease.
  • Definitions and Causes – Some basic information, including what it is, what causes it, and what treatments are available.
  • American Academy of Dermatology – Representing many different skin conditions, including alopecia areata.
  • Information – More information and photos of people who have the disease.

Alopecia areata is not a contagious disease, which means it cannot be passed from one person to another. Heredity is a possible factor as well as a potential autoimmune disorder. This disorder can attack hair follicles and result in the body's inability to grow new hair. Sometimes, stress or other emotional related issues can help to trigger the problem and make it worse. Some people have been diagnosed as having the disease at birth, although instances such as this are very rare. Small balding patches on the scalp or other parts of the body are the first symptoms of alopecia areata. The person who has this disease may feel a slight tingling or mild pain at the areas of hair loss, unlike normal "shedding" of the hair follicles. Another unusual symptom is the pitting of fingernails, although this could possibly be a symptom of other diseases as well. Doctors will typically attempt to pull a tuft of hair from the patient using normal force, and if a large area of hair, particularly in one place falls out very easily, then it could be an indication of the disease.

  • Hair Loss – Different causes of hair loss from the Mayo Clinic
  • Q&A – Some questions and answers from the NIAMS
  • Resources – A list of resources where people can go for treatment options, help, and more information.

About half of people suffering from alopecia areata will experience hair loss for about one year, and then the hair may grow back. If the affected are is fairly small, doctors may not prescribe any treatment and just advise the patient to wait it out. Some patients opt to wear hats or hair pieces to cover up the hair loss. There are some oral medications that people can take to help lessen the hair loss, and these can prompt the hair follicle to stay healthy and encourage hair growth. Topical medications are also sometimes prescribed, but these tend to be less effective than the oral versions. Female patients may choose to wear a wig to simply mask the problem, while others allow their hair to fall out naturally until they are bald. There are usually no serious side effects of this disease other than cosmetic ones, but some patients may also have allergies, asthma, or other issues. Only about ten percent of people who have alopecia areata will never re-grow their hair. About 90 percent of patients eventually see their hair grow back. While this disease can be a bit embarrassing, fortunately nothing has shown it to be very serious in terms of overall health.

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