Alopecia areata is a type of hair loss that occurs in about 2% of individuals  at some point in their lives.  

What does Alopecia Areata Look Like?

Alopecia areata typically causes round, smooth patches of hair loss that vary in size from less than a centimetre to several centimetres.  Most patients have small areas of the scalp, eyebrows or beard involved but a small percentage of patients will lose most or all of their hair.

What Causes Alopecia Areata?

Alopecia areata is thought to be an autoimmune disorder in which the skin's own immune cells attack the hair follicles at their roots, causing the hair to fall out.  Genetics probably play an important role; about 20% of patients with this condition report having a family member with the disease.  Many more patients have a family history of other autoimmune diseases, most commonly autoimmune thyroid disease.

Who Gets Alopecia Areata?

Anyone can get alopecia areata.  It occurs in people of all ages and backgrounds.  

How is Alopecia AreataTreated?

Most cases of alopecia areata are treated with injections of a cortisone medication in to the skin.  This quiets  the overactive immune response around the hair roots, allowing hair to re-grow.  Between 60-90% of people with alopecia areata will respond to cortisone injections.

Other treatments that are used for this condition include topical medications such as cortisone lotions and minoxidil.  Topical immunotherapy has shown reasonable success in treating alopecia areata and is often used in cases that have failed cortisone injections.  In Toronto, topical immunotherapy is only available at Sunnybrook Hospital.   Severe cases or those that are progressing rapidly are sometimes treated with oral medications such as oral cortisones or methotrexate.  

Are Other Conditions More Common in People with Alopecia Areata ?

Yes.  Allergic disease such as seasonal allergies, asthma or atopic dermatitis are more common in those who have alopecia areata.   Patients with this condition are also more likely to have other autoimmune diseases, such as thyroid disease or vitiligo.