Very smooth patches of hair loss affecting the scalp or beard areas and often moving from site to site.
This can affect patients of any age and often shows smooth patches of
hair loss possibly progressing to bigger patches.
Alopecia Areata describes a condition where bald patches of smooth skin appear in the scalp. These patches can vary in size and occasional patients find that almost all the scalp is involved. This can affect children or adults. Often there is a forgotten episode of hair loss in childhood or a family member with a similar problem.
The cause of alopecia areata is an attack on the hair follicles by white blood cells called lymphocytes. These lymphocytes are attacking the hair follicles in the mistaken belief that they represent foreign tissue (a little bit like the process which occurs in organ transplant rejection). The reasons why this occur are not known.
Some patients find that spontaneous improvement occurs once again after a few months, other patients find that the problem continues long term whilst a further group of patients find that the problem progresses and worsens so that more and more hair is eventually lost. Treatment is very difficult.
Taking steroid tablets internally can improve the situation temporarily but this type of treatment is very hazardous in the long term and is not usually recommended. Various skin-surface treatments are effective in some patients (but many other patients find them unhelpful). Treatments are specialised and need to be prescribed by a dermatologist.
by Dr John Ashworth