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Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata is a medical condition that causes a person's hair to fall out.

This condition can affect people at any age, but it is most common in under-20s.

Alopecia areata is thought to happen because of problem with the body's immune system.

In many cases, a person with alopecia areata will see their hair grow back after around 12 months, but for some people it won’t come back.

There may be some genetic or inherited component to alopecia areata, with it being more common among people with a family history of the condition.

Can alopecia areata be cured?

Alopecia areata cannot be cured, however, it can be treated and the hair can grow back.

In many cases, alopecia areata is treated with medicines that are used for other conditions. Treatment options for alopecia areata include:

  • Corticosteroids: Anti-inflammatory drugs that are prescribed for autoimmune diseases. Corticosteroids can be given as an injection into the scalp or other areas, orally (as a pill), or applied topically (rubbed into the skin) as an ointment, cream, or foam. Response to therapy may be gradual.
  • Minoxidil lotion or foam: This is applied to the scalp and can stimulate hair regrowth after two to three months. It is not recommended for those under the age of 16 and is not available on the NHS, but can be prescribed privately or bought over the counter. It can take up to a year for a maximum response, and its effect is dependent on continuous use.

Other drugs that are used for alopecia areata with varying degrees of effectiveness include medications used to treat psoriasis and topical sensitisers (chemicals that are applied to the skin and cause an allergic reaction that can cause hair growth).

Other tips

Apart from medicinal treatments, there are various cosmetic and protective techniques that people with alopecia areata can try. These include:

  • Using makeup to hide or minimise appearance of hair loss.
  • Wearing head coverings (wigs, hats, or scarves) to protect the head from the elements.
  • Reducing stress. Many people with new onset alopecia areata have had recent stresses in life, such as work, family, deaths, operations, accidents, etc. However, this has not been proven scientifically as a cause of alopecia areata.

While the condition is not medically life-threatening, it can impact people psychologically. Support groups are available to help people with alopecia areata deal with the psychological effects of the condition.

Seek medical advice if:

  • You suspect that you or your child has alopecia areata, or that your child has trichotillomania; both conditions should be evaluated by a doctor.
  • You suffer an unexplained loss of hair on any part of your body; your doctor may want to check for an underlying disorder.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on April 19, 2016

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