Alopecia areata is a common autoimmune skin resulting in hair loss on the scalp, face and sometimes in other hair bearing body parts. It is an autoimmune disorder in which the patient’s immune system starts attacking the patient’s hair follicles. It presents in majority of cases as localised patches of non scarring hair loss.
In most cases alopecia areata is inherited. It is sometimes associated with other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease, vitiligo, lupus , rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis. It can be triggered by viral infections, trauma, hormonal changes and emotional or physical stress.
All age groups, both sexes and all races can be affected. It starts in childhood in about 50% of affected cases. About 80% of the cases present before the age of 40. Severe disease is associated with young age, existing history of atopic dermatitis and chromosomal abnormalities like Down syndrome.
There are different types of alopecia areata. It is in majority of cases localised presenting as one or more well- defined patches of hair loss. It can be diffuse affecting most of the scalp. At times patients’ (in about 5% of cases) loose hair on the entire scalp in which it is referred to as alopecia totalis. The rare form is alopecia totalis (less than 1% of cases) were hair is lost in all the hair bearing areas on the body. In most case there are no associated symptoms while a few patients complain of a burning sensation or prickly discomfort.
Alopecia areata can affect nail also in 10-50% of cases. The nails will have pitting and ridges.
Sometimes alopecia areata can resolve with no intervention, but most patients might have to see their dermatologist for treatment. Treatment in most cases is with potent topical steroids. Topical minoxidil and intralesional steroids are also often used.
There are also a lot more specialised treatments that dermatologist are able to offer.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Gandhi.