Treatment for Hair Loss
Understanding Hair Loss
After the age of 30 or 35, both men and women may experience a mild reduction in scalp hair density. Hair loss, known as Alopecia areata, can cause hair to fall out in small patches that might initially go unnoticed but later become more apparent as the patches connect. This condition occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles, leading to hair loss on the scalp, and in some cases, on the eyebrows, eyelashes, face, and other parts of the body. The hair loss can happen suddenly and may reoccur after years between instances.
Alopecia areata can also result in total hair loss, known as alopecia universalis, where the hair does not grow back. In some cases, the hair may grow back but can fall out again later. The extent of hair loss and regrowth varies from person to person, and currently, there is no cure for this condition. However, there are treatments available to promote hair regrowth and prevent future hair loss, as well as ways to conceal hair loss. Additionally, resources are available to help individuals cope with the stress associated with hair loss.
Identifying the Underlying Causes
Hair loss occurs as a result of an autoimmune condition, where the immune system mistakenly identifies healthy cells as foreign substances. Typically, the immune system safeguards the body against viruses and bacteria, but in cases of alopecia, it attacks the hair follicles responsible for hair growth. This leads to the shrinking of follicles and the cessation of hair production, ultimately causing hair loss. The precise cause of this condition remains unknown to researchers.
Alopecia most commonly affects individuals with a family history of other autoimmune conditions, such as type 1 diabetes or atrophic arthritis. Genetics is suspected to play a role in the development of alopecia, and scientists also believe that environmental factors are necessary triggers for this condition in people.
Conventional Approaches to Treating Hair Loss: A Comprehensive Overview
A doctor can diagnose the type of alopecia by visually assessing the extent of hair loss and examining hair samples under a microscope. To rule out other conditions causing hair loss, such as fungal infections like tinea capitis, a scalp biopsy may be performed where a small piece of scalp skin is analyzed.
If other autoimmune conditions are suspected, blood tests might be conducted. The specific blood tests will depend on the suspected disorder, but they may involve checking for abnormal antibodies. The presence of these antibodies in the blood indicates the presence of an autoimmune disorder.
Additional blood tests, such as C-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rate, iron levels, antinuclear antibody test, thyroid hormones, and free and total testosterone, can help rule out other potential underlying conditions.
Topical agents: These are medication gels or ointments that can be applied to the scalp to stimulate hair growth. Corticosteroid creams, like clobetasol (Impoyz), are used to reduce inflammation in the hair follicle.
Medications: There are various medications available, both over-the-counter and by prescription. Minoxidil (Rogaine) is an OTC option that is applied twice daily to the scalp, eyebrows, or beard. It may take up to a year to see results and is most effective for limited alopecia areata. Anthralin (Dritho-Scalp) is a drug that irritates the skin to promote hair regrowth.
Topical immunotherapy: This technique involves applying a chemical like diphencyprone to the skin to induce an allergic rash. The rash resembles poison oak and may stimulate new hair growth within six months, but ongoing treatment is necessary to maintain the regrowth.
Injections: Steroid injections are commonly used for mild, patchy alopecia to promote hair regrowth in bald spots. Tiny needles inject the steroid into the affected areas, and the treatment needs to be repeated every one to two months. However, it does not prevent new hair loss from occurring.
Light therapy: Also known as photochemotherapy or phototherapy, this treatment involves a combination of an oral medication called psoralens and UV light. It is used as a form of radiation treatment to address hair loss.
Tablets: In cases of extensive alopecia, cortisone tablets may be considered as a treatment option. However, due to the potential for side effects, it is essential to consult with a doctor before opting for this approach.
Oral immunosuppressants: Medications like methotrexate and cyclosporine are alternative options that can be explored. They function by inhibiting the immune system's response. However, they are not suitable for long-term use due to the risk of side effects, including high blood pressure, liver and kidney damage, an increased susceptibility to severe infections, and a higher likelihood of developing lymphoma, a type of cancer.