Alopecia Areata (Hair Loss in Patches) : Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

If you experience sudden unexplained hair loss in patches on your scalp, you may be suffering from alopecia areata. Your initial hair loss experience may often follow a period of regrowth. However, the sudden onset of hair loss in patches can occur repeatedly thereafter without explanation.

Your doctor can diagnose your condition by examining the patches of hair loss. The doctor may gently pull the hair surrounding the affected area to determine the structural integrity of your hair roots and shafts.

If your doctor cannot confirm a diagnosis of alopecia areata visually, he or she may order a small skin biopsy from your scalp. A laboratory examines this skin sample to verify the presence of patchy hair loss. Your doctor then prescribes or recommends the best treatment to help relieve your symptoms.

Symptoms of Alopecia Areata

Unlike other skin, hair and scalp disorders, alopecia areata does not generally include additional symptoms other than the sudden onset of unexplained hair loss. When it does manifest, this type of baldness creates small, round bald spots on the scalp.

Some sufferers report feeling a slight burning sensation with mild tenderness, itching or tingling in the affected area during an episode of hair loss. However, the bald skin remains intact. Your skin looks smooth and completely normal.

Other patients notice changes in their fingernails. These changes include tiny dents or grooves in the surface texture as well as abnormal redness and even superficial splitting of the fingernails.

In some cases, hair loss in patches can be quite severe while resulting in total baldness (alopecia totalis) or the loss of all body hair (alopecia universalis).

Related: Itchy Scalp and Hair Loss


Causes of Alopecia Areata

Surprisingly, doctors recognize alopecia areata as an autoimmune reaction. For those who suffer with this condition, the immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicle cells, especially the cells on the scalp. These hair follicle cells are responsible for new hair growth.

The medical community once thought that stress could lead to patchy hair loss. New research seems to indicate that is not the case. While stress can cause periodic hair loss, it doesn’t seem to be a key factor in the severity of hair loss experienced by those with alopecia areata.

Asthmatics, hay fever, thyroid disease and pernicious anemia can cause this type of baldness. Other people with a higher-than-average risk of developing this condition include those born with down syndrome or vitiligo.

Interestingly, genetics may also play a significant role in predicting your chances of developing patchy hair loss. Nearly 40 percent of people diagnosed with alopecia areata before the age of 30 have a family member who also suffers from the disorder.

Related: Thyroid And Hair Loss

Related: Can Genetic Hair Loss Be Reversed?


Expected Duration

Once the hair follicle cells have been compromised, small bald patches develop on the scalp. These patches may take six months to a year to grow back completely. Even when the hair regrows, the baldness often returns with regular frequency.


Prevention of Alopecia Areata

There is no known way to prevent the development of the condition. Many methods of treatment have proven to be very effective.


Treatments of Alopecia Areata

Although doctors cannot yet fully cure your hair loss in patches, you can manage your symptoms satisfactorily. Your treatment depends largely on your age, the severity of your hair loss and your ability to tolerate the side effects associated with treatment.

If you have a very mild amount of hair loss, you may opt to wear a wig or detachable hairpiece. Using a hair fiber is also another option to consider. TOPPIK Hair Building Fiber is the most popular one with more than 2,000 positive reviews on

The strategy to manage alopecia areata is to find ways to outsmart the autoimmune reaction while simultaneously encouraging the regrowth of hair.

The most effective treatment options for hair loss in patches are as follows:

● Corticosteroids, such as Prednisone, are often prescribed for adult patients with excessive hair loss. This is a short course of corticosteroids taken by mouth.

● Cortisone cream can be applied topically to the bald spots. A cortisone solution can also be injected directly into the bald spots in an attempt to suppress the autoimmune reaction.

● Psoralen and ultraviolet A phototherapy may help reduce the severity of symptoms. This treatment uses controlled exposure of ultraviolet light to the affected skin areas.

● Immunotherapy, employing chemicals like diphenylcyclopropenone (DCP) or squaric acid dibutyl ester (SADBE) can help improve the symptom. It irritates the scalp to trigger an allergic reaction in order to neutralize hyper-active immune cells.

● Topical minoxidil such as Rogaine Men’s Extra Strength Solution and Kirkland Minoxidil 5% increases hair growth by jump-starting your own natural hair growth cycle. It also increases the width or diameter of the hairs that start to grow. Click minoxidil for more information about its types, instruction and side effects.

● Anthralin (Micanol, Drithocreme, Dritho-Scalp) also causes irritation to the scalp but can stimulate early hair regrowth. This product may be used in tandem with minoxidil.

Successful management of the symptoms associated with alopecia areata is possible. The best course of action to ensure the most positive results is to gradually try each treatment in order to find the most effective one for yourself.

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