Did you know that it’s normal for people to lose up to 100 strands of hair a day? But when your hair falls out in round patches, that’s something else entirely. This abnormal hair loss could be due to a condition called alopecia areata. Currently, there is no cure for alopecia areata, but there may be ways you can manage the condition. Scroll down to learn more.
About alopecia areata
Alopecia areata affects about 2% of Americans. It is an autoimmune condition causing the body’s own immune system to attack the part of the skin that makes hair (called the hair follicle). This causes hair to fall out on the scalp and/or the body. Researchers are still uncertain of the exact cause of the disease.
Alopecia areata can occur at any age, but it typically begins during childhood. It can affect people who:
- Are otherwise in good health.
- Have a family history of other autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or thyroid disease.
People with alopecia areata are at higher risk for thyroid disease, eczema, nasal allergies, or asthma.
Symptoms of alopecia areata can be different from person to person. Some people may lose more hair before it grows back. Others may have their hair grow back only for it to fall out again later. In only a few cases, total hair loss on the body or head can occur. Typical symptoms include:
- Small, round bald patches on the scalp.
- Hair that narrows toward the bottom of the strand (like an exclamation mark) and may be found around the edges of bald spots.
- Fingernail and toenail issues, such as white spots or lines, pitting (tiny dents in the nail), thinning, splitting, losing shine, and becoming rough.
Other forms of alopecia areata
Some forms of alopecia areata can cause total hair loss, either on the scalp or the body:
- Total hair loss on the scalp is called alopecia totalis.
- Total hair loss on the body is called alopecia universalis.
Both forms are uncommon, occurring in only 5% of alopecia areata cases.
Talking with your healthcare providers
If you think you may have alopecia areata, talk with your dermatologist. He or she can provide a diagnosis by examining your scalp and hair or taking a biopsy (removing a small piece of skin). Your dermatologist can also rule out other possible causes of hair loss. These may include thyroid disease, fungal infection, or an iron imbalance.
If you do receive an alopecia areata diagnosis, know that healthcare providers and therapists are available. They can help you manage this condition and give you the emotional support you need.
Tips for managing alopecia areata
Although there is no cure for alopecia areata, there are things you can do to help manage its symptoms. Talk to your doctor about ways to help slow or stop hair loss or help hair regrow.
You can also consider wearing a wig, hat, or scarf. It is important to protect areas of bare skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Wearing sunscreen, a hat, wig, or sunglasses can help cover these exposed areas.
Clinical trials that test alopecia areata therapies are also available. Talk with your healthcare provider to determine if treatment or a clinical trial is right for you. For information about alopecia clinical trials, visit:
The emotional impact
Although alopecia areata is not contagious and does not cause physical pain or illness, it can be challenging to live with. Not knowing if or when your hair will fall out or grow back can be stressful and frustrating. You may even feel lonely, sad, confused, angry, hopeless, embarrassed, fearful, or guilty.
If you have a child who has alopecia areata, you may feel guilty thinking that you passed on the gene (even though that might not be the case). You may also feel helpless because you cannot cure your child’s alopecia areata or ease their concerns.
If you or someone you know suffers from alopecia areata, it is important to know that support is within reach. Some people find that counselors can help. The National Alopecia Areata Foundation also offers a variety of support services including a pen pal program, message boards, support groups, and an annual conference. You can decide which option would work best for you.
Medically reviewed by Lynne Napatalung, MD, MA, Medical Director of Dermatology, Global Therapeutic Area Team, Inflammation and Immunology Medical Affairs at Pfizer, and Anna Tallman, PharmD, Global Therapeutic Area Team Leader, Dermatology with Pfizer.
- 1. American Academy of Dermatology. Alopecia Areata: Diagnosis and Treatment. Accessed February 9, 2018.
- 2. American Academy of Dermatology. Alopecia Areata: Overview. Accessed February 9, 2018.
- 3. American Academy of Dermatology. Alopecia Areata: Signs and Symptoms. Accessed February 9, 2018.
- 4. American Association of Retired Persons. Alopecia Areata. Accessed January 31, 2018.
- 5. MedlinePlus. Hair Loss. Accessed January 23, 2018.
- 6. National Alopecia Areata Foundation. Living With Alopecia Areata. Accessed January 25, 2018.
- 7. National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Alopecia Areata. Who Gets. Accessed January 25, 2018.
- 8. National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Alopecia Areata. What Is It? Accessed February 9, 2018.
- 9. National Institutes of Health: US National Library of Medicine. ClinicalTrials.gov. Accessed February 9, 2018.