Hair and nails are a natural extension of the skin and play an essential role in protecting the body from external factors in the environment. Being aware of any drastic changes to either the hair or nails is extremely important because it can be an indicator that something else is going on in the body. Hair loss, or alopecia, is a common condition, which may be a consequence of natural aging, a side effect of medication, or a manifestation of a health disorder. As for nails, they should appear smooth and consistent in color. Changes in color, texture, consistency, or growth rate can be signs of fungal or bacterial infection, autoimmune disease, psoriasis, diseases of the lung, heart, kidney, or liver, as well as diabetes and anemia, and even skin cancer in the nail bed. Often, patients do not realize that dermatologists also treat hair and nails. In fact, the examination of the hair and nails is part of a complete skin exam.
For more information and education about alopecia areata, the National Alopecia Areata Foundation is a good resource.