Hair Loss: Alopecia

Dermatologist examines patient's head

Overview

Alopecia Overview

Alopecia is a common autoimmune disease that causes your body to mistakenly attack its hair follicles, keeping them from producing hair. Hair loss occurs in patches or clumps, usually creating bald spots on the scalp. It can also affect other body parts, such as your beard, mustache, eyebrows or eyelashes. Given this, you may be more likely to develop this condition if other family members have it.

Anyone can get alopecia, and race and gender seem to play no role. However, people most at risk of developing it include those with alopecia areata in their family or with other autoimmune disorders, such as hay fever, asthma, thyroid disease, vitiligo, atopic dermatitis or Down syndrome. Men and women between 30 and 60 are at the highest risk, but rare cases among children and younger adults can occur. Researchers believe environmental factors also play a significant role in hair loss.

There are three main types of alopecia areata, including: 

Alopecia areata

The most common form resulting in patches of hair loss

Alopecia totalis

Results in a total loss of hair on the scalp

Alopecia universalis

Results in a total loss of hair on the scalp, face and body

Hair loss, especially on the scalp, can lead to embarrassment or a loss of self-esteem. Although there is no cure for alopecia, treatments are available to help stop the hair loss and help you grow back the hair you have already lost.

Symptoms

Alopecia Symptoms

The main sign that you may have alopecia is patches of hair loss, usually on the scalp, but other parts of the body, too.

Rare symptoms include:

  • Tenderness
  • Tingling
  • Mild itching
  • Burning sensation

A small percentage of people with alopecia may also see signs in their fingernails, such as:

  • Pits
  • Ridges
  • Brittleness
  • Redness above the cuticle

Diagnosis

Alopecia Diagnosis

The first step toward a diagnosis is scheduling an appointment with your dermatologist. They will ask you questions about your and your family’s medical history and examine the area of hair loss and possibly your nails. Your doctor may use a small handheld tool called a dermascope (or dermatoscope), which consists of a magnifier and light to get a closer, more detailed look at your skin.

Schedule an Appointment

Questions about alopecia? Speak to one of our doctors to schedule an appointment today.

Treatments

Alopecia Treatments

Sometimes hair will regrow on its own, but if not, there are treatments available to help hair grow back. Some of these treatments include:

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Topical Treatments

Topical corticosteroids

Minoxidil

Anthralin

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Oral Treatments

Oral corticosteroids

Methotrexate

May be an option in cases with widespread or extreme hair loss if other treatments have not worked

JAK Inhibitors

An option for extensive hair loss

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Injections

Corticosteroid Injections

Specialists

Alopecia Specialists