May 25, 2008

Alopecia areata

What is alopecia areata? It's an autoimmune condition that results in hair loss. Why am I discussing it? Read on . . .

Recently, Tyler and I were in the car and when we stopped at a red light, I began pulling my hair into a ponytail. As I reached back with my left hand, I thought my scalp felt funny. And then I realized that I had a bald spot. It was about the size of a quarter and hidden by the rest of my hair, which is presumably why no one had ever noticed it before. I panicked! I called my primary physician and got squeezed in that same day. My doctor assured me that the condition wasn't indicative of anything serious and that the only possible cause he could test for was my thyroid, and told me to see my dermatologist.

The thyroid test came back normal.

A few days ago, I saw my dermatologist, Dr. R. He diagnosed the bald spot as alopecia areata. While typically occurring in children, the condition can occur at any age.

Dr. R said that alopecia areata occurs when white blood cells congregate under the skin, cutting the hair off from nutrients, which results in it falling out. He injected my scalp half a dozen times with a very diluted cortisone solution, which he said would dissipate the white blood cells in the area. Dr. R said that without treatment, the alopecia areata might spread. Yikes!

I had (of course) Googled "random bald spot" immediately upon my discovery of the bald spot and concluded that it probably was alopecia areata. The articles I read said that one of the potential causes was stress, and I had been very stressed out since the holidays last year due to a situation with some family members. But when I mentioned stress to Dr. R, he was somewhat dismissive. He said stress was a possible trigger, but it wasn't the actual cause. He likened stress to the trigger of a gun, and the cause to a bullet. The bullet is the actual cause of death; the trigger is just what got the bullet going. He said that genetics are the likely cause, but I got the impression that no one knows the cause of alopecia areata for sure.

For the time being, I am optimistic that my hair will start growing back within four weeks. If it doesn't, Dr. R said he'll give me another round of shots. And I don't want that - the shots really hurt!

If you have alopecia areata, you have my sympathy. While not a serious health condition in the sense that it doesn't seem to impact anything but hair growth, it's still no fun. And my bald spot is in the best place it could possibly be, where no one can see it. Others aren't so lucky.


Anonymous said...

Wow - I've never heard of that. I'm pretty vain, myself, so I'd be freaking out if I had a bald spot. I think you handled it very gracefully and your positive attitude is a learning lesson for us all. Thanks for sharing something so personal.

Lindsay said...

I had that when I was a kid as well... mine was towards the back of my head and could not be seen if my hair was pulled up. It was also about the size of a quarter. I was bout 8 so they didnt do shots, they had a cream that my parents had to put on and it burned. But a few treatments of that did the trick and it has never come back.

However, I have heard that once you have it it could "flare" up again and cause another bald spot.. did your Dr. saying thing like that?

Anonymous said...

wow, i had never heard of that either! i have hair loss issues thanks to breastfeeding, but i am hopeful it will all grow back thicker (and less gray!)


Anonymous said...

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MetaMommy said...

Oh, that's a horrible feeling. I hope it grows back soon, and it doesn't happen again.

When I was in my high school band, I wore a hat that was part of our uniform for a one mile parade. It didn't fit right, and shortly after I realized I had a bald spot the size of a quarter at the top/back of my head. I could conceal it by wearing my hair in a pony tail until it grew out. One tragic day, I had some product in my hair to keep the growing hair in place, and it rained. When I got home, I found a tuft of hair sticking up like Babe, the pig. NOT a good day.

So, be careful of that growing hair. Trust me.

Anonymous said...

I have heard of alopecia before, but thought it only meant when all the hair falls out. I had no idea it could be just in patches. Hang in there - it will get better.
Homemaker Barbi

Anonymous said...

I began to have alopecia areata in my 20s. At one point I had about 30 areas. I am now 38 and found my last "spot" on my thirty 36th b-day. I thought of them as worry spots when I worried about something I would have spot show up. Needless to say I'm a lot more laid back these days.I hope the family problem can be resolved I have read and believe that it does go away.

Anonymous said...

My brother-in-law's brother has a rarer form called alopecia universalis. He has NO hair anywhere on his body--not his head, arms, legs, and no eyebrows or eyelashes.

Looking at him, you'd think he was a cancer patient. He has had periods where he was normal (with hair), but these past few years, he's been completely hairless. I believe he actually started a support group for sufferers of the condition. I know that he once tried to commit suicide when he suffered with a bad bout of it in high school (he was teased for wearing a wig).

Hopefully you'll make a full "recover" soon.

Chief Family Officer said...

@Fico Queen - Thank you so much for your kind words!

@Lindsay - I'm sorry you had to go through that, and very glad to hear that the hair grew back and hasn't been a problem since. As for flaring up again, my dermatologist didn't say anything about that, but that would be in keeping with what I know of autoimmune conditions so I wouldn't be surprised. I'll try to remember to ask him the next time I see him (although hopefully that won't be any time soon!).

@Workout Mommy - Thank you!

@MetaMommy - Ugh! That must have been traumatic, in high school no less! Thank you for the "tuft" tip. I wouldn't have thought of that but now that you've mentioned it, I can totally see how that would happen. I will definitely keep it in mind!

@Danelle - Thank you so much!

@Tammy - I'm so sorry that you have had to deal with this! And thank you for the encouragement. I am definitely optimistic that the hair will grow back and stay there!

@Yune - That must be very tough for your BIL's brother. And I'm definitely glad I'm dealing with this as a teenager (one of the biggest benefits of getting older is perspective, isn't it?). Thank you for your well wishes!

Anonymous said...

i have this. i was misdiagnosed for quite a while and ended up losing almost all of my hair. i wore a wig for close to 2 years before my hair grew back. i still frequently get bald spots. in fact i have one right now about the size of a 50 cent piece. although it's not a life threatening condition, and i'm thankful for that, it still gives your self esteem a beating.

i have never met anyone who had this, thanks for sharing your experience

Anonymous said...

I have it.... My 4th spot in about 6 years. I am so stressed out that I have to believe that is part of it.

Also, mine hurts. I know to feel that spot because something is making my hand check it out... an wa la... there is the bald spot. Nothing ever says anyting about pain.... Makes me nervous maybe my condition is more serious.

Any thoughts?

Chief Family Officer said...

@anon2 - I'm no medical expert, so I can only give you the common sense advice to go see your dermatologist. I didn't have any pain and found my bald spot quite by accident. Fortunately, the shot apparently did the trick, as my bald spot has completely filled in. I'm sorry you're going through this and please, see your doctor so the problem, whatever the cause, can be taken care of as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

I have had this twice, both times in the same spot, on the back of my head, back right side. The cortizone fixed it the last time, it fixed itself the first time, took about 3-4 months though. My mother had it during one of her pregnancy, lending weight to the genetic theory - both times I got it were very stressful times.

You cannot use the cortizone treatment too many times as it causes atrophy (a small weakened indent).

Lately - I have to say, the spot where it has happened actually hurts, like it's sore... I cannot find anything that ties pain and alopecia together (and I don't have health insurance).

Anyone have any info on that? Thx.

Anonymous said...

o i see that someone else has experienced pain - did you ever get any more info?

Anonymous said...

Treatments for Areata aren't really in existence yet as doctors don't know exactly what causes it, it's probably autoimmune, but that's the latest of many theories!

You can waste a lot of money on "treatment" which doesn't work, my advice would be to cover it up with a hat or scarf, and if you look at men's hair loss forums they have a whole range of clever concealing products.

Personally, I used Nanogen, seems to be quite popular with the men, and definitely me! It's ideal if you have temporary hair loss (mine came after surgery and is now growing back again) as it's affordable and not intrusive or anything. Go to if you want any more details.