For most of the 4.5 to 6.5 million folks in North America with the condition, hair loss happens in just one or two small spots — could be the eyelashes or on your arms, legs or in a half-dollar-size spot on your scalp. Most people who develop it are adolescents or young adults; only 20 percent are age 40 or older. Unlike other autoimmune conditions, it affects males and females about equally.
Fortunately, the hair usually grows back, although it may temporarily or permanently lose its pigmentation. This is the same condition that can cause a person's hair to turn gray overnight, and occasionally it leads to loss of all scalp or body hair and can affect the fingernails, causing pitting. There's no cure, so you may lose and regrow hair in different areas throughout your lifetime.
It's also a good idea to get tested for thyroid disease. It often piggybacks with alopecia areata (which also runs in families), as do lupus, vitiligo and rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers have set up a registry of folks with the condition (www.AlopeciaAreataRegistry.org) to collect information and gene samples to figure out causes and find a cure.
For this first incidence, you may choose not to treat the condition. But injections of glucocorticoids induce regrowth in up to 67 percent of folks, and when applied topically the success rate is 25 percent. Unfortunately, relapse often happens when treatment is discontinued. Discuss benefits and risks with your doctor. And on the horizon: Epithelial stem-cell treatments that may regenerate healthy hair follicles. Good luck!
Q: My son is 11 and has started complaining of growing pains. His older brother is 17 and still says he's sore and achy every once in a while. Will the discomfort go away when they stop growing? And how can I help them feel better now? — Valarie H., Eugene, Ore.
A: Turns out "growing pains" have nothing to do with getting taller; that's an old-fashioned name and concept. We now know that intermittent attacks of achiness that can keep kids off the sports field and awake at night don't get triggered by growing bones and tissue rubbing together like tectonic plates before an earthquake — although that's what it can feel like to your sons.
One recent study reported about 60 percent of teens experience intermittent bone and tissue soreness in at least one area, while 33 percent experience it in several locations. But some docs think "growing pains" are even common in kids as young as age 3.
So what causes it? There's some indication that it affects kids who have heightened pain sensitivity or have hypermobile joints (often called double-jointed), or even flat feet. It's also related to physical activity and overuse injuries. Children may not notice discomfort while they're playing, but later when they're relaxing or asleep, it registers.
These pains also can be stress-related or psychological, although that may be a chicken or the egg situation. (Does increased sensitivity to pain cause emotional problems or is moodiness a sign of a biochemical imbalance that also causes increased pain sensitivity?)
What we know is that the first treatment to try is R.I.C.E.: rest, ice, compression and elevation. A warm bath, massage and children's-strength ibuprofen or acetaminophen also may help.
A new study of 3,000 teens with knee pain indicates that for about half of them, it becomes chronic and can lead to osteoarthritis and knee replacement decades later. Strength training and physical therapy started early and done conscientiously may help avoid later problems.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.