Figuring out the best way to treat and cope with your hair loss means figuring out what is behind the hair loss. While many people do start to lose their hair as a result of male or female pattern baldness, that’s just one cause of hair loss. In some cases, the body’s immune system can be its own worst enemy and can start attacking the hair follicles, causing hair to fall out.
Hair loss due to an autoimmune disorder is known as alopecia areata. It can happen to anyone, man or woman, young or old. Usually, the symptoms of the condition start during childhood, though they can develop later in life. The way the hair is lost is one way to tell if alopecia areata is behind your hair loss. Typically, alopecia areata causes hair loss in round patches, on the scalp, and in some cases, on the body. There are several ways to manage the condition, from newer treatments such as platelet rich plasma therapy to other methods of controlling the immune system.
Platelet Rich Plasma
Platelet rich plasma therapy is a relatively new treatment option for people experiencing alopecia areata. A study published in 2013 in the British Journal of Dermatology tested the effect platelet rich plasma would have on patients with the condition. The study was small, featuring just 45 patients, but was randomized, double blind and placebo controlled. Half of the patients underwent PRP therapy, another therapy or received a placebo, the other half did not. At the end of the study, the patients who had undergone PRP were shown to have a significant increase in hair growth, as well as a reduction in other symptoms.
So, what is PRP and how is it effective? Platelet rich plasma is taken from a patient’s blood, and concentrated so that it contains considerably more platelets than regular blood. It also contains more proteins, such as vascular endothelial growth factor, transforming growth factor, and platelet dervice growth factor, all of which play a part in helping the body heal. The PRP helps increase cell growth and the amount of nutrients that flow to the treated area, and in doing so, promote new hair growth.
Although more commonly used to treat hair loss that occurs as a result of female or male pattern baldness, minoxidil is thought to provide some benefit to people with alopecia areata. The medication helps shrunken hair follicles continue to grow. It’s safe for use by adults and children. The caveat with Minoxidil is that a person needs to continue to use the medication, applying it to the area of hair loss, twice a day. Its effects wear off when it is discontinued.
Corticosteroids are used to treat a number of autoimmune disorders, including alopecia areata. While corticosteroids are often effective, they have a number of downsides. One major drawback is that they suppress the immune system. While that is often what is needed when the immune system is too active, it does put a person at an increased risk for infection.
The medication has a number of other side effects, especially when it taken orally, such as weight gain and cataracts. In the case of alopecia areata, it’s more likely that a patient will be given corticosteroid injections or a topical ointment, both of which have fewer side effects than oral medication. If oral corticosteroids are given, a patient will usually only be on them for a short amount of time.
Waiting for New Growth
While any treatment for alopecia areata will help the hair regrow, it’s important to remember that hair growth won’t be instantaneous. After a treatment with PRP, for example, it can take anywhere from three to eight months for new hair to grow. In the interim, a patient has several options for concealing or coping with the hair loss.
The ways a person can conceal areas of hair loss depends on what areas are affected. If there is a lot of hair loss, wearing a wig might be the best option for some, at least until the hair grows back. Another option might be to use a scarf or bandana to style the hair and to cover up any bald patches at the same time. Hats can also help cover up bald patches, and look stylish, too. If a child is coping with alopecia areata, it’s a good idea to let his or her teachers know about the condition, so that they don’t ask the child to remove the hat or scarf in class.
Makeup can also be useful, particularly in the areas of hair loss are small or occur on other parts of the body. For example, eyebrow pencils can help fill in bald patches on the brows while waiting for new growth.
Virginia Beach facial plastic surgeon and hair restoration specialist Dr. Kyle Choe recently started offering platelet rich plasma therapy to patients. If you are suffering from alopecia areata and want to learn more about what this new treatment can do for you, call Dr. Choe’s office at (757) 389-5850 to schedule a consultation today.