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It is normal for the scalp to lose up to 100 hairs every day. Alopecia occurs when you lose more hair than normal or when the lost hair is not replaced.

Hair loss may come on suddenly or gradually and depending on the cause is temporary or permanent.

Alopecia symptoms

The following are common alopecia symptoms:

  • Sudden loosening or shedding of hair: It may come out in handfuls when you comb or wash your hair and result in hair thinning.
  • Gradual thinning of hair: Hair may recede from the forehead in men. Women may experience a widening where they part their hair. This is the most common type of hair loss.
  • Balding in patches: It may affect the scalp, beard or eyebrows.
  • Full-body hair loss: Loss of nose hair or eyelashes may leave you more susceptible to infections.

Alopecia causes

There are many causes of alopecia, including the following:

  • Cancer treatments: Some types of radiation therapy and chemotherapy
  • Diet: Not enough protein or certain vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin D or iron
  • Hair disorders: Includes alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that often causes round patches of hair loss
  • Heredity (male-pattern baldness or androgenetic alopecia): Passed from parents’ genes and the most common cause of hair loss or thinning
  • Hormonal changes: From pregnancy, childbirth or menopause
  • Medical conditions: Thyroid disease, anemia, lupus and others
  • Medications: Includes those used to treat heart problems, high blood pressure, depression and arthritis
  • Physical or emotional shock: Such as from childbirth or a major illness
  • Scalp infections: Includes ringworm, which is more common in children

How can I get help for alopecia?

You should not wait too long if you are experiencing alopecia, especially if it is sudden or patchy. You may have an underlying medical condition that needs treatment. Also, alopecia is easier to treat early on before you lose a lot of hair.

Make an appointment with a dermatologist — a doctor who specializes in hair, skin and nail problems. The doctor will examine you to find the cause of your hair loss and tell you what you can expect.

Care for people with alopecia at Rush

If your hair loss is caused by an underlying condition or reaction to a medication, hair will often grow back on its own once the condition is treated or medication changed.

Your dermatologist can offer medications and procedures to treat alopecia. Your treatment will depend on what is causing your hair loss.

Medications to treat alopecia

  • Minoxidil: Slows or stop hair loss and can promote hair growth
  • Finasteride: Treats male-pattern baldness by stopping the body from producing a male hormone
  • Corticosteroids: Stop inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases like alopecia areata
  • Topical sensitizers: Deliberately cause an allergic reaction on the scalp that can lead to hair growth

Surgical procedures to treat alopecia

  • Hair transplantation: Involves transplanting parts of the scalp with good hair growth to balding areas
  • Scalp reduction: Removes bald skin on your head, then closes the space with hair-covered scalp
  • Scalp expansion: Stretches areas of the scalp that have hair on them to reduce balding

Why choose Rush for alopecia care

  • If your alopecia is caused by an underlying medical condition, Rush has specialists to treat your condition. For example, rheumatologists are available to treat autoimmune conditions like lupus, and endocrinologists are available to treat thyroid disease.
  • Rush has dermatologists who are also board-certified in dermatopathology. These doctors are experts in interpreting blood or hair samples to identify the cause of your alopecia. 

Departments and programs that treat this condition