Alopecia Areata (AA) is a prevalent hair loss condition that affects approximately 7 million people in the USA alone, making it the second most common cause of baldness after male and female pattern baldness. This autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own hair follicles, leading to the cessation of hair growth and the development of bald patches. In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the different types of AA, understand the underlying causes, explore common symptoms, and discuss available treatment options. Additionally, we will highlight recent research developments that offer hope for hair regrowth in individuals with AA.
I. Understanding the Types of Alopecia Areata
Patchy Alopecia Areata:
Patchy AA is the most common type, characterized by noticeable hair loss in the form of multiple small, round to oval patches scattered across the scalp or affected areas. These patches may remain separate or merge to form a larger patch. Patchy AA can affect individuals of any age, with a higher incidence in males.
Corticosteroid injections are considered the most effective treatment for stimulating hair regrowth in patchy AA. Research studies have shown that approximately 80% of individuals who received corticosteroid injections experienced significant hair regrowth within three months.
Alopecia Totalis involves the complete or near-complete loss of all hair on the scalp. It can be a progressive form of the normal AA or occur spontaneously. Many individuals with Alopecia Totalis may experience itching or a tingling sensation on their scalp. While it is an autoimmune condition, it also exhibits a strong familial association, suggesting a genetic predisposition.
A Pulse-Steroid Therapy, a topical treatment involving the application of a steroid onto the scalp, is commonly used for Alopecia Totalis. This therapy aims to reduce the autoimmune reaction and promote hair regrowth. However, there are ongoing debates regarding its long-term efficacy and safety.
Alopecia Universalis is an advanced form of AA characterized by the complete or near-complete loss of hair from all hair-bearing surfaces of the body. It may be associated with allergic conditions like atopic dermatitis, thyroid disorders, and personality disorders. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of Alopecia Universalis.
Treatment options for Alopecia Universalis include phototherapy, Pulse-Steroid Therapy, and a combination of Cyclosporine and steroids. These approaches aim to stimulate hair regrowth and manage the autoimmune response.
Alopecia Incognito is an acute onset of AA that primarily affects women under the age of 40. Unlike other variants, it does not present as patchy hair loss. Instead, individuals experience abrupt and intense hair loss from the scalp. Dermoscopic findings in this variant often reveal yellow dots on the scalp, accompanied by regrowth of short, new hair.
Steroids, administered through intramuscular, oral, or topical routes, are commonly used to treat Alopecia Incognito. Steroid therapy has shown effectiveness in managing this form of AA.
II. Exploring the Causes of Alopecia Areata
Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune condition, in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles. This attack leads to inflammation, which disrupts normal hair growth and causes hair loss.
Genetic and Environmental Factors:
While the exact causes of AA remain unclear, it is believed to have a multifactorial etiology involving both genetic and environmental factors. Genetic predisposition plays a role, and certain environmental triggers may initiate or exacerbate the condition.
Associations with Allergic Conditions and Thyroid Disorders:
Alopecia Universalis, in particular, has been associated with various allergic conditions such as atopic dermatitis. Thyroid disorders are also linked to an increased risk of developing AA.
III. Symptoms and Diagnosis of Alopecia Areata
The most common symptom of AA is the presence of bald patches on the scalp. Hair loss can occur anywhere on the body, but the scalp is the most commonly affected area. In some cases, individuals may experience itching, tingling, or a burning sensation in the affected areas. Diagnosis of AA is typically made based on clinical presentation and examination of the scalp by a dermatologist.
IV. Treatment Options for Alopecia Areata
Corticosteroid injections, as mentioned earlier, are the primary treatment for patchy AA. These injections stimulate hair regrowth by reducing inflammation and immune activity in the affected hair follicles. Pulse-Steroid Therapy, phototherapy, and the use of medications like methotrexate are also employed, depending on the type and severity of AA.
Promising Research and Hope for Hair Regrowth:
Recent research has shown promising results with a drug called Ruxolitinib, originally used for bone marrow disorders. In a study, a 9-year-old boy with AA experienced nearly complete hair regrowth after four months of twice-daily Ruxolitinib treatment, with no reported side effects. This breakthrough offers hope for the development of more effective treatment therapies for AA in the future.
Alopecia Areata can significantly impact an individual’s self-esteem due to hair loss. Understanding the different types of AA, its causes, symptoms, and available treatment options is crucial for effectively managing the condition. While there is currently no definitive cure, various treatment modalities show promise in stimulating hair regrowth. Ongoing research, such as the use of Ruxolitinib, provides hope for the development of more effective therapies in the future. By staying informed and seeking professional guidance, individuals with AA can navigate their journey and regain confidence in their appearance.
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