What is alopecia areata?

Alopecia areata is a fairly common condition (ranking with vitiligo) that results in the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere. It usually starts with one or more small, round, smooth patches. It occurs in males and females of all ages, but onset most often occurs in childhood. In alopecia areata, the affected hair follicles become very small, drastically slow down production, and grow no hair visible above the surface for months or years. It is not the same as male pattern baldness, which is a much more common genetic condition in males.

Current research suggests that something triggers the immune system to suppress the hair follicle. Recent research indicates that some persons have genetic markers that may increase their susceptibility to develop alopecia areata. Some believe alopecia may be one of vitiligo's closest relatives, because of the autoimmune nature of the condition. However, only a very small percentage of people with vitiligo also develop alopecia areata. Alopecia areata may result in symptoms (skin pigment loss) which appear similar to vitiligo, and some vitiligo patients are initially diagnosed with alopecia. However, proper medical examination can determine which condition is present.