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Alopecia Areata Information

Alopecia areata ("baldness in spots") is a form of hair loss from areas of the body, usually from the scalp. Because it causes bald spots on the head especially in the first stages, it is also called spot baldness. Hair loss can extend to eyebrows, eyelashes and facial and nasal hair and create more bald spots elsewhere in the body. Alopecia areata is thought to be an autoimmune disease in which the body mistakenly treats its hair follicles as foreign tissue and suppresses or stops hair growth. It is not contagious but may be hereditary - there are a few recorded cases of babies being born with congenital alopecia areata. Stress has not been proven to be a crucial factor, although this is still disputed.

If the affected region is small, it is reasonable to observe the progression of the illness as the problem often spontaneously regresses and the hair grows back. In cases where there is severe hair loss, there has been limited success treating alopecia areata with steroids (intradermal, topical or oral), other immune modulators, minoxidil or phototherapy.

Effects of alopecia areata are mainly psychological (loss of self image due to hair loss). However, patients also tend to have a slightly higher incidence of asthma, allergies and atopic dermal ailments and even hypothyroidism. Loss of hair also means that the scalp burns more easily in the sun. Loss of nasal hair increases severity of hay fever and similar allergic conditions. They may also have aberrant nail formation because keratin forms both hair and nails.

Episodes of alopecia areata before puberty predispose to recurrent episodes after puberty. Pitting of the fingernails can hint at a more severe or prolonged course.

Initial stages may be kept from increasing by applying topical corticosteroids. However, since the exact mechanisms are not ultimately understood, there is no known cure to date. Hair implants may help covering bald spots, but cannot guarantee satisfactory outcome, since the bald areas might expand. Wigs should be prescribed if patients, especially female patients, mention social discomfort.

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