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Alopecia Areata This disease shows up as the sudden appearance of round or oval patches of hair loss. These patches are completely slick, bald, or smooth without any signs of inflammation, scaling, or broken hairs. They appear overnight, or sometimes over a few days.
Alopecia areata is thought to be caused by the body's immune system attacking the hair follicles. At any given moment about one in 1,000 children has alopecia areata. About 25% of these children also have pitting or ridging of the nails.
With appropriate treatment, a large percentage of patients will have all of their hair back within one year -- many sooner. Children with alopecia areata should be under the care of a dermatologist. About 5% of children with alopecia areata will go on to develop alopecia totalis -- the loss of all the hair on the scalp. Some of these will develop alopecia universalis -- the complete loss of body hair.
Diagnosis: Currently there are no conclusive diagnostic tests for alopecia areata. Dermatologists diagnose alopecia areata by a process of elimination of other hair loss causes and the close examination of the bald patch itself. Typically, the initial alopecia areata lesion appears as a smooth bald patch, sometimes within 24 hours. Some people feel a tingling sensation or pain in the affected area. The scalp is the most commonly affected area, but alopecia areata can be present in any area where there is hair on the body. Hair pull tests are sometimes conducted at the margins of lesions. If hair is easily pulled out, the lesion is active and further hair loss should be anticipated. Since alopecia areata is fairly distinctive, it is usually correctly diagnosed with a simple visual examination.
Treatment: There is no cure for alopecia areata and, unfortunately, since there is little understanding of the disease, there are no FDA-approved drugs or treatments specifically designed to treat it.
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