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Hair loss treatment: Medications

Written by Dr Anitha Anchan |Updated : September 25, 2014 2:40 PM IST

hair lossHave you been noticing your scalp through your hair? Are friends and family pointing out to you that you're looking older? Maybe it's time you considered consulting a skin specialist or a trichologist for the problem.

Firstly, you need to understand why you are losing hair. In certain cases like menopause or childbirth in women, the hair growth often returns to normal six months to two years later. For temporary hair loss due to illness (such as fever), radiation therapy, medication use, no treatment is necessary. The hair will usually grow back when the illness has ended or the therapy is completed. If the hair loss isn't due to any of the causes mentioned above, there are good medical and surgical options for the problem.

When you do visit the trichologist (a doctor who deals with hair and the scalp), a thorough history is often noted down. Depending on your case, your doctor might suggest you get some blood tests done to find out if there are any hormonal imbalances, nutrient deficiency etc.

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In some cases, where the hair loss isn't too bad, the doctor may start the treatment more conservatively. He/she may try correcting the hormonal imbalance if any or suggest a high protein and an iron-rich diet.

Click here to read about food items that can prevent hair loss.

The doctor will also discuss the type of hair loss you have and suggest various treatment options - medical (using medications that can be taken orally or applied on the scalp) or surgical. Here are a few of the medical options:

If you suffer from male pattern baldness (or androgenic alopecia):

Minoxidil: Used for both men and women, it is a solution that is applied directly to the scalp to stimulate the hair follicles. It slows down hair loss for many men and some even grow new hair. It works best on the crown compared to the frontal region. However, one needs to be very careful while applying it since application to the face or neck skin can cause unwanted hair growth in those areas! And you may have to continue using it for a really long time since stopping the usage has often been linked to increased hair loss.

Finasteride: It is a pill that blocks the action of natural hormones in scalp hair and reduces hair loss. Approved for use in only men with androgenic hair loss, this drug is found to be safe in postmenopausal women.

Dutasteride: It may help in hair loss by blocking the production of or binding of testosterone in the scalp hair follicles. You are not permitted to donate blood before the six-month clearance time after taking this medication.

Prostaglandin analogs (bimatoprost): Primarily used for eyelash enhancement, have the potential for hair regrowth in men and women. However, their efficacy in scalp hair loss is yet to be established.

If you suffer from patchy hair loss (or alopecia areata):

This is a very unpredictable condition and hence slightly more difficult to treat.

  • If your hair loss is not widespread, the hair is likely to regrow in a few months without treatment.
  • For severe forms, small amounts of steroids like triamcinolone may be injected into your affected scalp patches to stimulate hair growth.
  • Other options such as oral steroids, immune-suppressants or ultraviolet light therapy are available for severe cases but they have potential side effects or risks.
  • Contact immunotherapy may be the most effective treatment for severe alopecia areata. A medicine is applied on your scalp once a week which irritates the skin and makes it red and scaly. Hair growth may appear within 3 months of beginning treatment. Side effects include a severe rash (contact dermatitis) and swollen lymph nodes.
  • Psoralen with Ultraviolet A Light (PUVA)therapymay also be used to treat alopecia areata if you have large areas of skin affected by the disorder or you cannot use other treatments. A medicine, called psoralen, is used to make the scalp more sensitive to ultraviolet A (UVA) light before exposing it to the same.

If you suffer from ringworm of the scalp (or Tinea capitis):

Tinea capitis may be hard to get rid of and it may return after treatment. Griseofulvin, terbinafineoritraconazole are used for 4 - 8 weeksto treat ringworm in the scalp (Tinea capitis). Keep the area clean. A medicated shampoo containing ketoconazole or selenium sulfide maybe helpful to slow or stop the spread of infection. However, the shampoo alone cannot get rid of the ringworm. Wash towels in warm, soapy water and dry each time they are used by someone who is infected. Soak combs and brushes for an hour a day in a mixture of one-half bleach and one-half water for 3 days. Do not share combs, hairbrushes, hats, towels, pillowcases, or helmets with other people.

Also read: Cosmetic and surgical treatments for hair loss

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