Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that attacks the hair follicles in the skin, resulting in partial or complete hair loss. The hair loss most commonly occurs on the scalp, but it can affect any part of the body. The onset is usually during childhood, though the disease is unpredictable and can function in cycles with periods of hair loss and periods of remission. The course of the disease is different for each individual. Over 6.8 million people in the United States have alopecia areata.
There is no cure for alopecia areata, but several medications exist that can help regrow hair more quickly. Hair will often regrow on its own, so while medication may help this process, they are not guaranteed to work. Growing hair depends entirely on the person’s immune system and its signals.
Alopecia areata usually begins with one or more small, round patches of hair loss. This can escalate into complete hair loss or remain as patches. Other symptoms may include varied types of hair growth or nail problems, but symptoms generally do not interfere with one’s life or ability to function. The biggest difficulty people with the disease often face is adjusting to their appearance. It can be challenging, socially, to be bald -especially for women and children – and often associated with other diseases such as cancer. Some people prefer to wear wigs or scarves while others embrace the hair loss and choose to be bald.
There are several organizations and resources that provide information and resources about the disease. There are also support groups available for people dealing with hair loss to connect and talk with one another.