What is alopecia areata?

Alopecia areata is a type of hair loss that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles, which is where hair growth begins.

What causes alopecia areata?

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease. A person’s genetic makeup, combined with other factors, triggers this form of hair loss. People with alopecia areata may have a higher risk for:

  • Other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease or vitiligo (patches of lighter skin appear)
  • Asthma and allergies, mainly atopic dermatitis (more commonly called eczema) and hay fever (nasal allergies)
  • Having relatives who have asthma, allergies, or an autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes

What are the treatment options for alopecia areata?

Yes, it is treatable. Both topical and systemic medications as well as injections can be prescribed. Treatment helps the hair re-grow more quickly:

  • Corticosteroids: This medicine suppresses the immune system where it is applied or injected. It can be given as shots, with the dermatologist injecting the medicine into the places with hair loss. Sometimes a topical steroid is prescribed.
  • Minoxidil: A hair re-growth medicine, minoxidil 5%, may help some patients re-grow their hair faster. Both children and adults can use it.
  • Anthralin: This medicine alters the skin’s immune function. The patient applies a tar-like substance to the skin and leaves it on for 20 to 60 minutes. A dermatologist may call this short-contact therapy. After 20 to 60 minutes, the anthralin is washed off to avoid the skin from becoming irritated.
  • Diphencyprone (DPCP): This medicine is applied to the bald skin. It causes a small allergic reaction. When the reaction occurs, a patient has redness, swelling, and itching
  • Other treatments: Patients often get more than 1 treatment at a time. A mix of 2 or more treatments often boosts success.
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