What is alopecia? A medical overview

Alopecia is the general name for a number of hair loss conditions. As such, the main symptom is hair falling out and/or not re-growing. One subtype of alopecia is alopecia areata, which is sometimes categorised as: areata (patches of hair loss), totalis (near-complete hair loss on the head) and universalis (near-complete hair loss all over the body).
Alopecia can affect different hair-growing areas of a person’s body. This includes the scalp and face (including eye brows, eyelashes and facial hair), but also body hair such as on the arms, underarms, legs and around the genitals.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition. The causes of the hair loss are when a person’s immune system targets their hair follicles. Sometimes there is a trigger to start this happening, but it varies from person to persona and it is not always possible to identify why alopecia started.
Not everyone with alopecia wants medical treatments. For those who do, there are different medical treatments available. Examples include steroid treatments in different forms: topical (applied to the skin), injections into the skin and tablets. Some types of treatment can be bought from a shop (‘over-the-counter’), such as minoxidil topical treatments. Other treatments must be prescribed after visiting a medical professional such as a General Practitioner (GP), nurse or dermatologist. Some treatments are procedures done by medical professionals, such as topical immunotherapy.
Some people choose to wear a wig or hat to cover alopecia on their scalp. If a person with alopecia and their dermatologist agree that a wig would be helpful, the dermatologist can write them a prescription. This can help the person get a wig for free or at a lower cost.
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