Background Alopecia areata is believed to be an autoimmune condition with a worldwide occurrence. It usually presents as patchy, nonscarring hair loss. There is a paucity of clinical data in Asians.
Objective To study the epidemiology, clinical aspects, associations, and treatment of alopecia areata in an Asian population over a 1-year period.
Methods Records of all newly diagnosed alopecia areata cases seen from May 1998 to April 1999 at the National Skin Center were collated with regard to the epidemiology, pattern of alopecia, and associations according to the investigational guidelines published by Oslen et al. The treatment and psychologic impact of alopecia areata were also assessed.
Results Two hundred and nineteen new case referrals of alopecia areata were seen from May 1998 to April 1999. The incidence of alopecia areata was 3.8%. There were 173 Chinese (79%), 35 Indians (16%), and 11 Malays (5.0%). The male to female ratio was 1 : 1.3. The median age at presentation was 25.2 years. The majority of patients (85.5%) had their first episode of alopecia areata before the age of 40 years. Of the patients with onset of alopecia areata before the age of 40 years, 36.5% presented with extensive alopecia, compared with 5.5% above the age of 40 years (P < 0.05). Nail changes, consisting of pitting, trachyonychia, and longitudinal ridging, were reported in 23 patients (10.5%).
A significant percentage of patients had an associated personal and family history of atopy (60.7%). There was no significant association between a personal history of atopy and the extent of alopecia areata. The frequencies reported for the following associated diseases were: thyroid disease, 2.3%; vitiligo, 4.1%; diabetes mellitus, 3.2%; Down's syndrome, 1.4%; and rheumatic arthritis, 0.9%. A family history of alopecia areata was reported in 4.6%.
Intralesional triamcinolone acetonide was the first-line treatment for limited alopecia areata, while squaric acid dibutyl ester was used for extensive involvement. The majority of patients with limited alopecia areata (82.1%) had more than 50% improvement with intralesional triamcinolone acetonide after 3 months. The majority of patients who received squaric acid dibutyl ester (87.5%) achieved more than 50% regrowth at the end of 6 months. Poor prognostic factors for alopecia areata were extensive involvement, early age of onset, and Down's syndrome.
Thirteen out of 132 respondents (9.8%) recalled stressful events preceding hair loss. Patients with extensive alopecia areata experienced more psychologic adverse effects than those with limited alopecia areata (P < 0.05). Males with extensive alopecia areata experienced more severe psychologic ill-effects, such as depression and feelings of inability to improve hair loss.
Conclusions Our findings are similar to those reported in the Western literature where alopecia areata is predominantly a disease of the young. A holistic approach is important in the management of alopecia areata as the disease can have a severe psychologic impact on an individual's well-being.