An Overview of Alopecia Areata

Currently, alopecia areata affects as many as 6.8 million people in the United States. Although alopecia areata has been around for many years, there is still no cure. Despite this, treatments are available to those who struggle with the condition.

What Is Alopecia Areata (AA)?

Hairloss Concept. Worried Young Woman Holding Bunch Of Fallen Hair In Hand While Standing Near Mirror In Bathroom, Stressed Beautiful Lady Suffering Alopecia Or Health Problems, Selective Focus

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss on the scalp and/or other parts of the body. Every person who has alopecia areata will have a unique experience with the disorder and may lose varying amounts of hair in different areas and at different rates.

Generally speaking, hair will fall out in clumps around the shape and size of a quarter. Hair may fall out and grow back again. Sometimes, only some hair grows back. And occasionally, the hair never grows back.

Hair loss from alopecia areata can occur anywhere on the body, but it often involves hair loss on the head, including the scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, beard and mustache area, and all over the face. The arms, legs, and other body parts can also experience hair loss.

Despite being emotionally and physically challenging, alopecia areata is not a life-threatening medical condition, nor is it contagious.

Alopecia areata is the main type of this hair loss condition, but there are also several rare variations of the disorder, including: 

Alopecia areata universalis: Losing all of the hair all over your body

Alopecia areata totalis: Losing all of the hair on your head

Ophiasis alopecia areata: Losing hair around the back and sides of your head (in a band shape)

Diffuse alopecia areata: The sudden thinning of your hair

What Does Alopecia Areata Look Like?

In many cases, the only notable symptom of alopecia is the loss of hair on your head and/or body. However, other symptoms may occur as well:

  • Rapid hair loss that occurs in a short amount of time
  • Instead of total hair loss, small bald patches on any part of the body that normally has hair, including your head
  • Hair loss patchiness that slowly gets larger so that bald patches grow together to create a larger bald spot
  • Hair regrowth that occurs in one or several spots while continuing hair loss occurs elsewhere on the head or body
  • Pitted or brittle-looking toenails and fingernails (nails may also appear notably redder)
  • More intense or rapid hair loss when the weather gets colder

Find out more about alopecia areata treatments.

What Causes Alopecia Areata?

Numerous factors may be responsible for a person’s onset of alopecia areata. One of the main contributing factors is having a close family member who also has the disorder. In addition, concurrent medical conditions such as the following may be seen alongside alopecia areata:

  •  Asthma
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Vitiligo
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Thyroid disease
  • Down syndrome

Is Alopecia Areata Genetic?

Technically speaking, alopecia areata is a “polygenic disease.” This means that for the disease to manifest, the presence of numerous genes is required, and the environment plays a role in most cases.

With that said, genetics and heredity certainly play a role as well. Those with close family members (parents, grandparents, siblings) who have alopecia areata may also be more likely to have it.

Is Alopecia Areata Curable?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for alopecia areata. However, treatments are available. In addition, most individuals with this medical condition only have it for a set period.

Hair follicles are alive, so much of the time, hair will fall out for a duration, but then grow back again and remain permanently. Some treatments can help the hair grow back faster during periods of hair loss.

Dermatologists are the doctors who primarily treat this condition as their area of expertise includes diagnosing and treating conditions of the skin, hair and nails. Some treatments available for those who suffer from alopecia areata include:

  • Phototherapy
  • Topical immunotherapy
  • Corticosteroids
  • Minoxidil

At DAOPM, we have been actively engaged in the research projects which led to the approval of these medications by the FDA, and our physicians are very experienced with these new therapies. We continue to have research programs pursuing our investigative nature. 

Can I Receive Alopecia Treatment?

Ongoing alopecia areata research aims to find a reliable cure for this disorder and relieve millions of individuals from the pain and struggle of hair loss.

Dermatology Associates of Plymouth Meeting participates in numerous clinical trials for new medications and treatments. Depending on your situation, you could qualify for an alopecia areata trial, which would cover the cost of your alopecia medications or treatments.

Although there is not a cure for alopecia, you have options if you struggle with this hair loss condition. Learn more about our available clinical trials on our research programs page.