Alopecia areata is one type of alopecia which is the Latin term for hair loss. There are many different types of hair loss which is divided mainly into scarring and non-scarring. Alopecia areata belongs to the non-scarring alopecia which means that the scalp or affected areas will not develop any scarring. Alopecia areata is an inflammatory type of non-scarring alopecia which develops as a result of inflammation around the hair follicles leading to shedding of the affected hairs. The inflammation is targeted at one own’s structure and therefore classified as auto-immune with the risk of other existing auto-immune conditions such as thyroid gland disorders. 

Alopecia areata presents with small areas of hair loss with no scars and often a normal looking scalp with no background redness or excessive scaling. The hair loss may be accompanied by a mild tingling or burning sensation but in most cases it is symptom free. The areas of hair loss may be confined to one or 2 areas or multiple areas and in some cases may involve the entire scalp which is then called alopecia totalis. Alopecia areata may affect areas other than the scalp such as the eyebrows, eyelashes, and limbs. The more widespread the areas of hair loss the poorer the long-term outcome and success of treatment. Hair loss which involves the entire body is termed alopecia universalis.

Alopecia areata may in some patients have a genetic component and although an inflammatory condition it can be triggered by a stressful event or illness. In many cases there is no obvious trigger. Areas of hair loss may re-grow spontaneously but this often takes several months. 

The treatment of alopecia areata depends on the extent and severity and may include topical treatments with potent steroid lotions and hair growth stimulating solutions, steroid injections and growth factors and in severe cases steroid tablets that needs to be taken for few months. Steroid tablets can cause some side-effects and should therefore be considered carefully in the treatment of alopecia areata. 

Alopecia areata may recur at a later time particularly if triggered by some the aforementioned triggers and in most cases should respond to the same treatment that was initiated before but this will always depend on the extent and severity.

Professor Firas Al-Niaimi has published scientific papers on hair loss and hair-related treatments and these articles can be found in the publications section of the website.