Alopecia Areata is a an unpredictable, autoimmune skin disease resulting in the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere on the body. This common but very challenging and capricious disease affects approximately 1.7 percent of the population overall, including more than 4.7 million people in the United States alone. Due to the fact that much of the public is still not familiar with alopecia areata, the disease can have a profound impact on one’s life and functional status, both at work and at school.
How Does Alopecia Areata Occur?
In alopecia areata, the affected hair follicles are mistakenly attacked by a person’s own immune system (white blood cells), resulting in the arrest of the hair growth stage. Alopecia areata usually starts with one or more small, round, smooth bald patches on the scalp and can progress to total scalp hair loss (alopecia totalis) or complete body hair loss (alopecia universalis).
Alopecia areata occurs in both males and females of all ages and races; however, onset most often begins in childhood and can be psychologically devastating. Although not life-threatening, alopecia areata is most certainly life-altering, and its sudden onset, recurrent episodes, and unpredictable course have a profound psychological impact on the lives of those disrupted by this disease.
Causes of Alopecia Areata
The causes of alopecia areata are not exactly known, or why only specific areas of the scalp are affected by the hereditary disease. It is believed that the immune system has an inherited factor that triggers it to react against particular tissues of its own body — in this case, hair follicles. These “triggers” can range from infection, medicines, to environmental factors. Interestingly, this disease does not actually destroy the hair follicles, but only “halts” normal growth. The growth of hair normalizes when the immune reaction goes away.
For more information, visit The National Alopecia Areata Foundation Website.