Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes your hair to come out, often in clumps the size and shape of a quarter. The amount of hair loss is different in everyone.
When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system attacks your body.
With alopecia areata, it’s the hair follicles that are attacked.
Doctors don’t know why it happens. But they think people who get it have something in their genes that makes it more likely.
Then something happens to trigger the hair loss. Learn more about what causes alopecia.
You’re more likely to get alopecia areata if you have:
A family member who has it
Small bald patches on your scalp or other parts of your body
Patches may get larger and grow together into a bald spot
Hair grows back in one spot and falls out in another
You lose a lot of hair over a short time
More hair loss in cold weather
Fingernails and toenails become red, brittle, and pitted
If you think you have alopecia areata, you may want to see a skin specialist called a dermatologist. They will:
Talk to you about your symptoms
Take a close look at the areas where you have hair loss
Pull gently on the hairs at the edges of the bald patch to see if they come out easily
Check individual hairs and follicles to see if they’re abnormally shaped
Examine your nails
Rarely, you may have a biopsy, which means a small piece of skin is removed from your scalp and looked at under a microscope.
Many conditions can cause hair loss. So your doctor may test your skin for a fungal infection or give you blood tests to check for thyroid, hormone, or immune system problems.
These are anti-inflammatory drugs that are prescribed for autoimmune diseases.
They can be given as an injection into the scalp or other areas.
They can also be given as a pill or rubbed on the skin as an ointment, cream, or foam.
The downside is that it may take a long time to work.
This is used when there’s a lot of hair loss or if it happens more than once.
Chemicals are applied to the scalp to produce an allergic reaction.
If it works, this reaction is actually what makes the hair grow back.
It also causes an itchy rash and usually has to be repeated several times to keep the new hair growth.
This treatment, which is put on the scalp, is already used for pattern baldness.
It usually takes about 12 weeks before you see growth, and some users are disappointed in the results.