What is Alopecia Areata and How Is It Treated?

Hair loss, no matter what the cause, is often associated with self-consciousness and significant distress. One type of hair loss that effects many American men and women is an autoimmune disorder known as alopecia areata, which entails losing hair unpredictably. Alopecia areata is the result of the immune system attacking cells in the hair follicles, which are the structures housing the hair roots.

When this occurs, hair production is significantly slowed down. If you suffer from this skin condition, here’s what you should know about alopecia areata, its causes and how it’s treated.

Causes of Alopecia Areata

“Although scientists aren’t certain of the exact causes, they believe that genetics are a big factor,” says Dr. Miriam Hanson, board certified dermatologist and skin care expert in Austin, Texas. One out of five people who suffer from this condition have a close relative with alopecia areata.

Also, alopecia areata has been seen more in people with family members who have lupus, diabetes, thyroid disease and other autoimmune disorders. “Some have suggested that there’s a predisposition to autoimmune disorders that makes people susceptible,” explains Dr. Hanson.


There are three clinical presentations of his type of hair loss:

  • Alopecia areata is the most common pattern of this skin condition. It typically  doesn’t result in total baldness. Instead, hair falls out in round, well-circumscribed patches. “The scalp and beard are probably the most common areas we see,” says Emily Johnston, certified physician assistant at Sanova Dermatology. “But really, any area – arms, legs, eyebrows, eyelashes – can be affected.”
  • Alopecia totalis or AT entails total hair loss that only occurs only on the scalp.
  • Alopecia universalis includes hair loss over the entire body, including eyelashes, eyebrows and body hair. It can happen rather suddenly or involve a total loss of head hair. This type begins slowly, losing patches of hair, as alopecia areata. But it then progresses to total scalp loss.


Unfortunately, there is no known cure for alopecia areata, but the condition can be treated so that hair can grow back.

  • Treatments may include using corticosteroids or anti-inflammatory medications prescribed for treating autoimmune diseases.
  • Corticosteroids can be taken as pills, injections or topically applied to the skin in the form of creams, ointments or foams.
  • When there’s widespread hair loss, topical immunotherapy may be done. This involves using topical contact allergens. These treatments may encourage hair to re-grow by causing inflammation.
  • Rogaine or minoxidil is a topical therapy used for treating pattern baldness. However, it can take around 12 weeks for hair to grow back using this drug.
  • Some people have used medications designed for treating psoriasis, as well as types of autoimmune disorders.

Contact Us

To learn more about alopecia areata and how it can be treated, please call the skin specialists at Sanova Dermatology. Besides treating hair loss, we offer advanced, full-spectrum skin care for the entire family. Please contact us.

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