Alopecia Areata Treatments
Alopecia Areata is a hair loss condition that can be devastating for sufferer’s resulting in total or patchy balding of the scalp as well as hair loss on other parts of the body.
What Causes Alopecia Areata?
Alopecia is not regular balding but is rather caused by an autoimmune disorder where the body’s defense system recognizes hair cells as foreign bodies and attacks them. This results in hair falling out and prevents hair from growing back.
The condition does not however affect hair follicles at all which means that hair can regrow and the condition is not permanent. In most cases, the condition resolves naturally and hair growth resumes. Alopecia Areata treatment may be used in the interim to stimulate hair growth.
There are a range of different treatments available, although to date, none have been FDA approved. Treatments vary in efficacy depending largely on an individual person as well as the extent of the hair loss. Treatments include:
1. Topical Treatments
Topical treatments are creams or lotions that are applied directly to the skin in the affected hair loss area. There are 3 effective topical treatments:
– Minoxidil in a 5% solution is a vasoldilator which increases circulation to the affected area to promote hair growth. Head and facial hair respond well to Minoxidil treatment.
– Anthralin cream is a tar like substance also used to treat other scalp conditions such as extreme dandruff and psoriasis. Anthralin is not recommended for treating facial hair loss as it can cause a reaction and irritate the eyes.
– Cortisone creams may also be effective when applied directly to the affected area. Effectiveness is improved when used 30 minutes after Minoxidil treatment. However, cortisone creams may have severe side effects and are not recommended for long term treatments.
Topical treatments are only recommended for patchy hair loss and not for the Totalis or Universalis classes of Alopecia Areata. Hair regrowth may take a few weeks to become visible after daily treatment.
Corticosteroids can be administered in two ways as an effective Alopecia Areata treatment:
– For patchy hair loss, the medication is injected directly into the scalp in the affected areas.
– For total baldness, oral corticosteroids or pills are prescribed for a limited period of time.
Although corticosteroids are highly effective at promoting hair growth in Alopecia patients, the treatment is rarely prescribed due to the multitude of side effects. Hair growth will stop when the treatment is discontinued.
3. Topical Immunotherapy
Topical immunotherpay involves inducing an allergic reaction on the scalp. This is called contact dermatitis and resembles the same symptoms as being exposed to poison ivy. The treatment area will present with a rash that may be itchy, painful or result in a burning sensation.
The treatment diverts the immune system from attacking the hair follicles. Visible results may be seen up to 6 months from treatment date.
4. Alternative Treatments
Recent studies show that Calcipotriol may be effective in treating Alopecia Areata when applied topically to the scalp. Calcipotriol is a synthetic version of Vitamin D and visible results can be expected within 6 weeks of treatment.
Unlike the above medical Alopecia Areata treatments, this application has no side effects for the patient. Treatment can therefore safely be continued for extended periods of time with better overall results. The effectiveness of the treatment may however be dependent on the extent of the balding.
There are also a wide range of other remedies that proclaim to be beneficial for Alopecia patients. These treatments have however not undergone testing and may not be effective. It is best to consult a medical practitioner before using these treatments in order to determine their safety and whether they may interact with any prescribed treatments.
The above treatments are not cures for Alopecia Areata but rather treat the symptom of hair loss. The condition needs to resolve on it’s own and the length of time it takes to disappear varies greatly between different individuals. There is no scientific reason why Alopecia Areata appears and just as suddenly resolves.
In cases where treatments are not suitable or ineffective over an extended period of time, wigs are the best option as a substitute for natural hair.