Alopecia Areata is a skin disease that affects a lot of people nowadays. There has been a notable rise in this phenomenon, more commonly known as spot baldness. This is an autoimmune disease where hair is lost from some parts of the scalp in patches
What is the cause?
When the body fails to recognise its own body cells and subsequently starts destroying its own tissues, hair stops growing in weird patches and spot baldness occurs. This is very visible in the scalp and can spread to the entire scalp as in Alopecia totalis or sometimes even other areas of the skin (Alopecia universalis). Alopecia Areata might share a similar pathogenesis with vitiligo a disease where the body attacks cells that produce melanin.
What are the types of Alopecia Areata?
- Reversible Alopecia Areata – (non scarring Alopecia Areata) where the hair shafts are gone but the hair follicles remain, completely preserved, which means this type of Alopecia reversible.
- Irreversible Alopecia Areata – also known as scarring Alopecia, this disease includes fibrosis, inflammation and loss of hair
What are the symptoms?
Alopecia Areata is a disease that develops suddenly, in just a few days. One in five people who have Alopecia Areata also has a family member facing the same disease. It is a condition with undetermined etiology, characterised by circumscribed, asymmetric areas of baldness that might extend to eyebrows and beards from the scalp.
- Clumps of hair might fall out – leaving smooth, hairless patches on the skin (usually the scalp)
- Hair may become thinner without actually creating bald patches but not grow at all
- Hair may break off in part leaving stubs called as exclamation point hair.
- Alopecia Areata may also cause cadaver hairs that break before reaching the skin surface but still fill the follicle preventing future hair growth or regrow as patches of white hair in the area affected by hair loss.
- Alopecia Areata is not contagious – but it might be common in a family. But basically, it causes some amount of mental trauma with people trying to find workarounds that include hair transplant to get out of the uneven patches and end up in permanent hair loss in other parts of the scalp too.
- Alopecia Areata can happen suddenly, and can be caused after a bout of itching or irritation in a particular patch of the scalp where hair can fall The hair can regrow after the irritation in the hair follicles subsides but around a third of those who are facing Alopecia Areata find that it leads to more extensive hair loss or a continuous cycle of hair loss and regrowth. But in extreme cases, there might be complete hair loss in the scalp or all over the body if it is left untreated.
Alopecia Areata can have a few triggers that include
- Hereditary – with the history of the disease in family
- Having Alopecia Areata – untreated for over an year before puberty
- Having any other autoimmune disease
- Atopy prone to allergies
- Have extensive hair loss in general
How is it diagnosed ?
Alopecia Areata is diagnosed by a combination of medical history and direct physical examination. In hair analysis, the dermatologist / trichologist will take a sample of the hair and examine under a microscope. Sometimes samples from the scalp are taken for better understanding and diagnosis. Followed by a blood test where a specific condition is tested for, including overactive or underactive thyroid glands because this is directly related to hair loss. With a combination of blood tests and skin biopsy trichologists are able to narrow down on the cause.
What are the measures to minimize effects of Alopecia Areata?
- Sunscreens to protect the scalp, face and all exposed areas
- Eyeglasses to protect eyes from the dust and debris that falls in due to missing eyebrows or eyelashes
- Wigs, caps or scarves to protect the scalp from the sun
What Alopecia Areata Is NOT
- Alopecia Areata is not contagious
- As a disease, Alopecia Areata is not painful or causing any discomfort other than the trauma got from hair loss
- People suffering from Alopecia Areata do not feel physically sick. It can happen to even people who are otherwise healthy.
- Alopecia Areata has no effects on the life expectancy and is not in any way leading to other disease
- Though it does not affect the lifestyle of any individual, Alopecia Areata is still a traumatic disease to live with mainly due to the emotional factor.
What are the treatments?
In most cases, if it is a localised disease with one to three patches, it generally resolves on its own, even without medication. However, local steroid injections, steroid /non steroid applications, topical phenol peel, etc. are few treatments which have shown good results in helping hair regrowth in these patches.
For more information on Alopecia Areata and its cure, visit
Dr. Rinky Kapoor is a consultant cosmetologist and dermato surgeon. She is also a trichologist and is based in Mumbai, India. She has successfully treated many cosmetic and medically difficult diseases and has diagnosed them with accuracy, giving efficient treatment where required.