Alopecia areata, or spot baldness, is usually caused by a malfunction of the immune system. It happens when your body’s immune system attacks your hair follicles in an area, causing your hair to fall out.
It is actually more common in women than men, by a ratio of about 2.3:1. The majority of males are diagnosed as children under the age of ten, while women are most often diagnosed during adolescence. Women are also more likely to have associated nail problems and other immune system issues, particularly with their thyroid gland. Though it can be accompanied by these conditions, it is not thought to cause other health problems.
Fortunately, cases in which hair loss is complete across the scalp or entire body are fairly rare, only occurring in less than 3% of people diagnosed with alopecia. Prognosis is good, with treatment being effective in the vast majority of cases diagnosed.
There are two flavours of alopecia, scarring and non-scarring. In the less common scarring type, there is inflammation, fibrosis, and loss of the hair follicles. With non-scarring alopecia, the hair shafts fall out, but the follicles remain present, so the hair loss is reversible in most cases.
Signs and symptoms
The usual first signs of alopecia areata are a few small bald patches. The underlying skin will appear normal. These patches can be any shape, but round or oval patches are the most frequent.
It’s most common on the scalp and beard area, but can happen on any part of the body with hair. It is entirely possible for one patch to be losing hair while hair is regrowing at a different spot. The condition can go into remission, or remain constant. It can happen at any stage of life, but usually appears before adulthood. The affected spot may tingle or be tender.
Hair loss tends to occur in a short period of time, with spots appearing more on one side of the scalp, rather than being evenly distributed across both sides. The hair most at risk of falling out will be the hairs along the edge of the patches.
The cause of alopecia areata is not fully understood, though it’s thought to be genetic because those who are diagnosed with it often have another family member who also has the condition. Beyond inheriting it from parents, it is not at all contagious.
Diagnosis and treatment
Initial diagnosis is typically done by clinical observation of the symptoms. In some cases, this will be confirmed by the use of trichoscopy, which provides a magnified view of the affected area and surrounding hairs.
There are several medications that have been used to treat alopecia areata, usually in the form of a topical cream or an injection in the affected area.
If you suspect that you may have alopecia, we encourage you to make an appointment with a trained, experienced Hair Loss Consultant here at Universal Hair & Scalp Clinic Ltd.