Alopecia Areata (AA) (wikipedia link) is a disease which attacks hair follicles thus resulting in hair loss in small spots which are round (Bald spots). Although it mostly affects the scalp, it is also known to occur on other regions of the body. The cause of this autoimmune disease is unknown, but it appears to be transmitted genetically.
This type of alopecia varies in its acuteness, and the terminology used to depict it is dependent on the amount of hair loss. For example, alopecia areata totalis is used for an individual who loses all the hair on the scalp while alopecia universalis is for someone who loses hair all over the body, including lashes, pubic hair and eyebrows. Alopecia areata monolocularis is used for the hair loss in one area only, while alopecia areata multilocularis describes hair loss over several areas.
Spot baldness mostly begins with the appearance of small bald spots, generally on the scalp. However, it can also affect other areas where hair growth occurs, such as mustaches, beards and pubic areas. Sometimes the hair re-grows and at other times the disease can reduce, but this does not always happen. It is also possible that the hair that has grown back falls out again. At times the fingernails also get affected, as they develop dents and pits. Alopecia areata is an unpredictable disease and each case is different from the others and though there is a chance that all the lost hair will grow back, there is no way to be sure beforehand. This can be a one-time incident which will correct itself, but it can also be a pattern of simultaneous loss and re-growth that will continue for years.
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The only symptoms for alopecia areata are itchiness and mild irritation in the bald areas which is causes. Moreover, many other diseases can also be responsible for hair loss, thus a diagnosis must be carried out to identify the illness accurately. This diagnosis may involve a skin or scalp biopsy, or by tugging on the hair surrounding the patch gently. If the hair comes off easily, then this may mean that you have alopecia areata.
This disease does not have any known cures. The most significant affect alopecia areata can have on an individual is psychological. Our hair plays an important role in how we see ourselves, and its loss troubles most of us. Luckily, this disease is not permanent in most cases.