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May 23rd, 2011
07:52 AM ET

How can we treat my boyfriend's unusual balding?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Asked by Tracy of Fort Wayne, Indiana

Hi. My boyfriend is 27 years old. Over the past two or three months, he has had an odd pattern of baldness. It started as a very small area (pencil eraser size) above his left ear, but it quickly spread upward as well as to the front and back. Right now, there is a very big (2-3 inches across) bald area on the left side of his ear. I heard that the usual, normal balding pattern is on the forehead, but haven't heard this type of balding. I was wondering what could have caused this and how can we treat it (if it can be treated). Thanks!

Expert answer

Thanks for your question. This sounds like a condition called alopecia areata, which is basically hair loss that occurs in patches. To better help you, I consulted with Dr. Jeffrey Benabio, a dermatologist in San Diego and author of The Derm Blog, who shared this information:

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that causes patches of hair loss. It is common and can occur at any point in life. The hair loss happens quickly and creates round patches of smooth skin with few or no hairs left. It usually happens on the scalp, but can occur anywhere you have hair including the face, arms, legs and even eyebrows. Rarely all the hair can fall out - a condition called alopecia totalis if it occurs on the scalp and alopecia universalis if it involves the entire body.

It's not known what triggers alopecia areata other than that the hair loss is caused by one's immune system attacking the roots of the hairs. Stress might be a trigger for some, but for many people alopecia happens spontaneously - that is, without a known cause.

To treat this condition it's important to calm the inflammation that is happening under the skin. The best treatment is to inject a small amount of steroid into the area of hair loss to stop the process. Once the inflammation resolves, the hairs grow back. Unfortunately it can take months (even years!) for the new hairs to grow as long as the other hairs that never fell out.

If you have further questions, be sure to contact your doctor or a dermatologist. Good luck!


soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. mikeloz1971

    I had that happen at the tender age of 16!!! but mine was located square in the middle of the top of my head,, talk about a rough go especially being in HS at the time.
    i went to the derm and he game me the steroid shot – with in weeks it started to grow back...
    i believe it workled for two reason A) i was young and wanted it to work and B) the Dr convienced me it would.
    the power of suggestion can be very powerful..

    good luck to you and your BF – it worked for me...

    May 23, 2011 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael M.

      You may not have meant it that way, but it just seems so silly that you mention it worked vis a vis "Mind over matter" when the article clearly gives a Scientific explanation for how the steroid shot solves it. As a kid you simply heal faster than adults, shortening the time it takes for the hair to start growing.

      May 23, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse |
    • mikeloz1971

      MIchael M...

      what i should have said was – the reason it worked so fast for me was ,,,,,,,,,
      i'm a huge believer in the Placebo affect – he could have put a shot of sugar water in there and i think it would have worked.
      no doubt the steroids worked but with positive thinking and science it worked fast!! that's just me.. hopefully people suffering from this get the same affect!!!

      Palin 12!!!! lol

      May 23, 2011 at 10:55 | Report abuse |
    • hair man

      The cortisone shot does not work for everyone. In fact, it does a lot worse than this article would lead you to believe. Stress and other factors can have a far greater impact on auto immune disorders, so yes, I agree with the original poster that the "belief" that the shot would work could have helped the quick recovery.

      May 23, 2011 at 15:28 | Report abuse |
    • odysseus14

      mikeloz, This works for me when I get bald spots from AA: (and I'm serious about this, this really does work) – take a regular yellow onion and cut it in half. While you are watching TV or something, put the onion on the bald spot. This stops the spot from growing. Next, get some wheatgrass from your health food store, or it is very easy to grow, just buy some hard red winter wheat berries – seeds- and grow them in a tray with some dirt, usually found in a bulk section at the grocery store. Make juice out of the grass. You can't use a regular carrot juicer, you need one of those conical ones with the screw-press crank handle – the juice comes from the grass blade cells being crushed in some way. Daub the juice on the bald spot. In a few days of doing this, maybe a week or less, you'll notice peach-fuzz on the outside edges of the bald spot. Then, the hair will completely re-grow.

      May 24, 2011 at 17:12 | Report abuse |
  2. Jorge

    If you have gobs of dough and bad taste, you could always go the boutique dead-squirrel route, like Donald Trump.

    May 23, 2011 at 09:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jim

    Try using a good anti-oxidant like Glutathione. Free radicals are what's causing the problems. Also get off the sugars and grains, they're what's causing the inflammation.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael M.

      You have no idea what you're talking about. I bet you don't even know what a free radical is, how they're made, how it affects the cells in your body, or how molecules get rid of them.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:08 | Report abuse |
    • Leo

      Well it's a good thing you're not a doctor, Jim.

      Michael, I couldn't have said it better.

      June 9, 2011 at 08:11 | Report abuse |
  4. Noe

    This happened to me when I was 27yo. I quickly developed a bald spot on the front, right side of my scalp, just in time for my 10 year reunion. A little black eye-liner helped to mask the spot. I quickly setup an appointment with my dermatologist who gave me a steroid injection at the bald spot site. Within' two weeks, I had hair growing back! The nightmare was officially over. I'm about to turn 30yo and my scalp is full and healthy.

    I tried several home remedies with nothing but positive thinking working along-side the treatment with no result. In the end, science did the trick!

    May 23, 2011 at 11:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Christie

    I am a female who has dealt with AA (alopecia arreta) for 5 years. I lost a lot of hair;it grew back within a year after an aggressive treatment that I developed a serious allergy to,and then has fallen out again in patches a couple of times since then. Recently, rather than the shots, I use a steroid lotion rubbed on the bald spots that seems to work well. I do think the key is get to the doctor quickly. Good luck!

    May 23, 2011 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jeff

    I agree with Christie, I will not go into my story here but get to the derm ASAP! To me, cortisone is the only way to deal with this and if you don't treat it is unlikely to go away, My opinion, without treatment it is more likely to worsen than improve.

    May 23, 2011 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • odysseus14

      Jeff, This works for me when I get bald spots from AA: (and I'm serious about this, this really does work) – take a regular yellow onion and cut it in half. While you are watching TV or something, put the onion on the bald spot. This stops the spot from growing. Next, get some wheatgrass from your health food store, or it is very easy to grow, just buy some hard red winter wheat berries – seeds- and grow them in a tray with some dirt, usually found in a bulk section at the grocery store. Make juice out of the grass. You can't use a regular carrot juicer, you need one of those conical ones with the screw-press crank handle – the juice comes from the grass blade cells being crushed in some way. Daub the juice on the bald spot. In a few days of doing this, maybe a week or less, you'll notice peach-fuzz on the outside edges of the bald spot. Then, the hair will completely re-grow.

      May 24, 2011 at 17:12 | Report abuse |
  7. Christie

    Jeff is absolutely right. I avoided the doctor,thinking that my hair would eventually grow back or it would stop falling out, but it did not. Although some sort of inflammation may be the cause, there is not enough known about how to naturally reduce inflammation in the body. I eat a very healthy diet (very low in sugars and extra carbs), do not smoke, and take many supplements and I still lost hair again. At the present time, the condition requires medical intervention.

    May 23, 2011 at 13:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • odysseus14

      Christie, This works for me when I get bald spots from AA: (and I'm serious about this, this really does work) – take a regular yellow onion and cut it in half. While you are watching TV or something, put the onion on the bald spot. This stops the spot from growing. Next, get some wheatgrass from your health food store, or it is very easy to grow, just buy some hard red winter wheat berries – seeds- and grow them in a tray with some dirt, usually found in a bulk section at the grocery store. Make juice out of the grass. You can't use a regular carrot juicer, you need one of those conical ones with the screw-press crank handle – the juice comes from the grass blade cells being crushed in some way. Daub the juice on the bald spot. In a few days of doing this, maybe a week or less, you'll notice peach-fuzz on the outside edges of the bald spot. Then, the hair will completely re-grow.

      May 24, 2011 at 17:11 | Report abuse |
    • Leo

      Christie, don't listen to a word Odysseus. His quack-job approach won't do a thing to help your hair. Now, if you like being bald, then hey, all the power to ya. It's not like you need your hair to live. But if you WANT to keep your hair, then the doctor's advice of steroid shots is the best possible approach.

      First, the doctor is not talking about *STEROIDS* like what body builders use. These are completely different chemicals that work to calm a hyperactive immune response. Alopecia is auto-immune, or self-allergy, which means your own immune system is attacking your hair follicles. A steroid shot is a LOCALIZED, simple, and VERY SAFE way to stop your immune system from attacking your own hair follicles, to let the inflammation calm down, and to give your hair a chance to grow back. One treatment might be all you need!

      Or... you can put smelly vegetables on your head. While you're at it, you might burn incense and shake rattles while chanting. Because that would REALLY be effective, right?

      June 9, 2011 at 08:20 | Report abuse |
  8. Calalily

    My hair fell out in sudden large round patches two years ago. The doc said alopecia arreta, and wanted to do steroid injections: I politely declined. I shaved my head, wore wigs, rubbed cortaid into the spots and went about my business. Didn't change my diet or anything else. My hair all grew back with white streaks at first and curly, (was straight before). Took about a year and a half. I only have a few bald places and very, very small. Doc said hair may grow back, may not, may grow back and then fall out again, etc. So, I try not worry about it and have my wigs ready in the attic if it happens again.

    May 23, 2011 at 17:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • odysseus14

      This works for me when I get bald spots from AA: (and I'm serious about this, this really does work) – take a regular yellow onion and cut it in half. While you are watching TV or something, put the onion on the bald spot. This stops the spot from growing. Next, get some wheatgrass from your health food store, or it is very easy to grow, just buy some hard red winter wheat berries – seeds- and grow them in a tray with some dirt, usually found in a bulk section at the grocery store. Make juice out of the grass. You can't use a regular carrot juicer, you need one of those conical ones with the screw-press crank handle – the juice comes from the grass blade cells being crushed in some way. Daub the juice on the bald spot. In a few days of doing this, maybe a week or less, you'll notice peach-fuzz on the outside edges of the bald spot. Then, the hair will completely re-grow.

      May 24, 2011 at 17:10 | Report abuse |
  9. Bob

    That's easy. Get this book from Amazon or Barnes: I Broke the Mystery of Male Pattern Baldness. It's really a cinch to prevent and gain back hair to early balders.

    May 23, 2011 at 18:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Momov8

    I've dealt with AA for 24 years now. Started when my 7 year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. I always reminded her that what other mom would be so sympathetic to lose her hair as well. All said, I did the cortisone injections and for the most part all that they do is cause the bone in the head to soften. I've been to numerous dermatologists over the years and most agree that the steroids don't change the course of the baldness/hair returning cycle. It just takes time, so now I just accept it as something that happens to me that I can't do anything about and continue to be grateful that the hair loss isn't a result of cancer treatment. ... currently have 3 bald spots on the top of my head. Oh well, it could be much worse.

    May 23, 2011 at 22:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • odysseus14

      Momov8, This works for me when I get bald spots from AA: (and I'm serious about this, this really does work) – take a regular yellow onion and cut it in half. While you are watching TV or something, put the onion on the bald spot. This stops the spot from growing. Next, get some wheatgrass from your health food store, or it is very easy to grow, just buy some hard red winter wheat berries – seeds- and grow them in a tray with some dirt, usually found in a bulk section at the grocery store. Make juice out of the grass. You can't use a regular carrot juicer, you need one of those conical ones with the screw-press crank handle – the juice comes from the grass blade cells being crushed in some way. Daub the juice on the bald spot. In a few days of doing this, maybe a week or less, you'll notice peach-fuzz on the outside edges of the bald spot. Then, the hair will completely re-grow.

      May 24, 2011 at 17:10 | Report abuse |
  11. Siena Magenta

    My suggestion if (1) enjoy a couple of doobies and the (2) break out the crayons and use his melon as a canvas. Have a nice day!

    May 24, 2011 at 00:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. odysseus14

    This works for me when I get bald spots from AA: (and I'm serious about this, this really does work) – take a regular yellow onion and cut it in half. While you are watching TV or something, put the onion on the bald spot. This stops the spot from growing. Next, get some wheatgrass from your health food store, or it is very easy to grow, just by some hard red winter wheat berries – seeds- and grow them in a tray with some dirt. Make juice out of the grass. You can't use a regular carrot juicer, you need one of those conical ones with the screw-press crank handle. Daub the juice on the bald spot. In a few days of doing this, maybe a week or less, you'll notice peach-fuzz on the outside edges of the bald spot. Then, the hair will completely re-grow.

    May 24, 2011 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. randy crawford

    Odd patterns of balding can also be caused by syphilis. Hopefully that isn't the problem here, but it is something to be aware of.

    May 27, 2011 at 20:23 | Report abuse | Reply
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