Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link
Quick Facts

Alopecia Areata

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jan 2021| Content last modified Jan 2021
Click here for the Professional Version
Get the full details

What is alopecia areata?

"Alopecia" means hair loss. "Areata" means occurring in patches.

Alopecia areata is the sudden loss of patches of hair without any of the obvious causes.

  • Your hair falls out in patches for no clear reason

  • Alopecia areata is common and happens most often in children and young adults

  • The hair loss is usually from the scalp or beard

  • Your fingernails may become rough and pitted

What causes alopecia areata?

Doctors think alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder. In an autoimmune disorder your immune system mistakenly attacks part of your body. In alopecia areata, your immune system attacks your hair follicles so hair doesn't grow.

What are the symptoms of alopecia areata?

Alopecia areata causes:

  • Round patches of missing hair—patches can be small or you can lose all the hair on your scalp

You may notice short, broken hairs at the edges of the patches. You may have rough and pitted nails. There are no other symptoms, and you otherwise feel well.

How do doctors treat alopecia areata?

Alopecia areata sometimes gets better without treatment. The hair usually grows back in several months. If you have widespread hair loss, it’s less likely that your hair will regrow.  

Doctors treat alopecia areata with:

  • Corticosteroids injected at the bald spots

  • Medicine (minoxidil) applied to the bald spots

  • Sometimes, chemicals applied to the bald spot to mildly irritate it (this can cause hair growth)

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
ROGAINE
NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version

OTHER TOPICS IN THIS CHAPTER

Others also read

Test your knowledge

Lip Sores, Lip Inflammation, and other Changes
The lips undergo changes with aging, as do all parts of the body. Some changes may indicate a medical issue; others are harmless. As people age, the lips tend to become thinner. Deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals can lead to inflammation of the lips (cheilitis), causing them to become red, cracked, painful, swollen, and/or scaly. Deficiency of which of the following vitamins or minerals can cause these symptoms? 
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Also of Interest

Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
TOP