Treatment for Alopecia Areata
There is no cure for alopecia areata, but its patchiness responds to medical treatment to varying degrees (less effectively in cases of alopecia totalis and universalis). Unfortunately, hair transplants do not work on alopecia areata because it's what doctors call "recipient dominant." In other words, the bald patch, which would receive transplanted hair, provides no potential for hair growth.
Patients whose conditions don't respond to medical treatment might want to explore the use of wigs (some insurance companies pay for these -- contact the American Hair Loss Council for a list of companies that do) or hair coverings such as turbans or scarves. Because of the unpredictability of alopecia areata, experts suggest that you avoid covering a patchy area with small hair additions. This is because the hair piece might be useless to you within a few weeks due to further advancement of the alopecia. A dermatologist can best tell you when your condition has stabilized -- at that time, more options might be available to you.
Experts suggest that parents support their child's choice when it comes to purchasing a wig or prosthesis for the child. Putting pressure on the child to wear a wig can send the wrong message and make the child feel self-conscious about the way he or she looks. There are support groups across the country for people of all ages. Contact the National Alopecia Areata Foundation to find a group in your area.
Chemotherapy-Related Hair Loss
As we mentioned earlier, chemotherapy is the administration of drugs that are poisonous to rapidly reproducing cancer cells (see How Cancer Works). Cancer cells are some of the most rapidly reproducing cells in the body (see How Cells Work). Other cells, such as those that contribute to the formation of hair shafts and nails, also reproduce quickly. So while chemotherapy drugs preferentially destroy cancer cells, the drugs also can destroy cells responsible for normal growth of hair and nails. That's why cancer patients sometimes shed their hair and nails during treatment. No hair growth stimulants, shampoos, conditioners or other cosmetic treatments can prevent or retard the hair loss. The good news is that once chemotherapy is completed, the hair usually grows back within six months to a year.