Treatments for Alopecia
There are a range of treatments for AA, but none are effective for everyone
and some people with AA don't respond to any treatment. Because some of the
available treatments have a high risk of side effects, they are often not used
The most common AA treatment involves the use of corticosteroids.
Corticosteroid creams applied to the bald patches are popular with the average
dermatologist, although this treatment approach is only successful for the very
mildest cases. A more potent approach is to inject corticosteroid solutions
into the bald patches. This can work well for some people, but close monitoring
is required to ensure that side effects, such as skin thinning at the site of
injection, do not occur.
In extensive cases, systemic corticosteroids (those taken in pill or other
form to affect your body) are used, though not continuously since they can
cause significant side effects like bone thinning. But short-term "pulse
therapy" often has good results.
More specialized treatment approaches involve the application of contact
sensitizing chemicals to the skin. These cause an allergic reaction that can
help promote hair growth. That may sound counterintuitive but it seems to work.
A variety of experimental approaches are currently in laboratory and clinical
trials. One group of drugs being tested are "biologics," which have bits of
protein that interfere in a very specific way with the activity of immune
cells. Biologics are injected systemically to damp down the immune activity and
allow hair to regrow. The results of these trials are awaited with much
Unfortunately, people with more extensive, long-term AA find the treatments
currently available do not work well. For these individuals the only practical
answer is a wig and lots of emotional support. It can be depressing not to have
hair, especially for children, who don't want to be different from their
classmates at school, and women. In North America and many other countries of
the world, you can access a network of support agencies for people with AA.
Details are on the National Alopecia Areata Foundation website (http://www.naaf.org).
Published on March 1, 2010