Diagnosis of Alopecia Areata

Doctors usually diagnose alopecia areata by:

  • Examining the areas where the hair has been lost and looking at your nails.
  • Examining your hair and hair follicle openings using a handheld magnifying device.
  • Asking about your medical and family history.

Other health conditions can cause hair to fall out in the same pattern as alopecia areata. To determine if another condition is causing the hair loss, your doctor may order blood tests or a skin biopsy.

Treatment for Alopecia Areata

For many people, hair grows back without any type of treatment. For people with milder cases, no treatment may be needed. Some people with severe cases opt to forego treatment as well, and may instead consider products that conceal hair loss, such as hairpieces or wigs.

If you choose to seek treatment, your doctor will take into account your age and the extent of hair loss when making a treatment plan. A Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor was recently approved to treat adult patients with severe alopecia areata. In addition, medications that have been approved for other conditions may be used to treat the disease. These include corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and other medications that stimulate hair regrowth. The main goal of therapy is to stop the immune system attack on hair follicles and to stimulate the regrowth of hair.

Who Treats Alopecia Areata?

Alopecia areata is treated by:

  • Dermatologists, who specialize in conditions of the skin, hair, and nails.

Other specialists who may be involved in your care include:

  • Mental health professionals, who can help with the psychosocial challenges caused by having a medical condition.
  • Primary care doctors, such as family physicians or internal medicine specialists, who coordinate care between the different health providers and treat other problems as they arise. 

Living With Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata does not cause physical disability, but it may affect your sense of well-being. There are many things you can do to cope with the effects of this disease, including:

Get support.

  • Learn as much as you can about the disease, and talk with others who are dealing with it. Having a support network can help you deal with difficult times.
  • Visit a mental health professional if emotional problems arise. People with alopecia areata may have higher levels of stress, and depression and anxiety are more common in people with the disease.

Protect bare skin and stay comfortable.

  • Use sunscreens for any bare areas.
  • Wear wigs, hairpieces, hats, or scarves to protect your scalp from the sun and to keep the head warm.
  • Wear eyeglasses or sunglasses to protect your eyes from sun and dust if you have lost hair from your eyebrows or eyelashes.

Consider cosmetic solutions.

  • Wear a wig, hairpiece, or bandana to cover up hair loss. Alternatively, some people choose to shave their heads to mask patchy hair loss.
  • Use fake eyelashes or apply stick-on eyebrows if you lose hair from your eyelashes or eyebrows. Makeup or tattoos can also disguise loss of eyebrow hair.

People with alopecia areata have a higher risk of certain diseases such as thyroid disease, atopic dermatitis, or other autoimmune diseases, so it is important to visit your primary care doctor regularly. The sooner these diseases are diagnosed, the easier they are to control.

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