Treatment for hair loss starts at dermatologist 

Treatment for hair loss starts at dermatologist

My son is a high-school senior and has been losing hair most of the school year. He is very upset and has been looking up different treatments. most of which are expensive. We can't afford transplants. but would like to do something. Is there anything we can do?
Normal hair growth occurs in cycles. There is an active growth phase. lasting between six and 10 years. followed by a stage of regression. which lasts two to three months. followed by a resting phase. which is two to three weeks.
Each strand of hair is composed of protein growing from individual follicles. When hair is lost from a follicle at the end of the resting phase. a new strand starts to grow in the same follicle. Normally. the most common cause of hair loss is androgenetic. or male pattern baldness. which can start as early as the mid-teens. In males whose genetics predispose them to baldness. puberty starts the process. The pubertal increase in testosterone production results in an increased production of DiHydroTestosterone. which alters the normal production of hair by the follicle. With each cycle. hair strands become thinner. grow slower and fall out at shorter lengths. until eventually the follicle stops production altogether. Once this happens. the follicle is lost permanently. along with its hair production.
One form of treatment is to increase hair growth. Minoxidil is one of the most commonly used topical medications for this purpose. It comes in a 5 percent solution for men and a 2 percent solution for women. Originally developed as a pill to treat high blood pressure. it was found to also stimulate hair growth. A topical solution was developed to treat baldness. Limiting DHT production will decrease damage to follicles and the subsequent hair growth. Finasteride/Propecia is a DHT inhibitor. which is taken orally and works well when the hair loss is on the top of the head or in the front. It requires a prescription and is not approved for use in children or women.
Both minoxidil and finasteride are FDA approved and require daily use. Effects are usually not seen for three to four months. Discontinuing the medications will result in a return to hair loss.
Inflammation may also contribute to hair loss and itching; redness and flaking may indicate its presence. Shampoos like Nizoral are helpful when the scalp is inflamed. Retinoic acid. a commonly used acne product. also has been shown to stimulate hair growth.
A common sense approach would be to have an evaluation by a dermatologist. who will take a history and determine if factors other than genetics are involved. If male pattern baldness is the problem. medication (topical and/or oral) may be prescribed. Medication is not a cure. but may help to reverse the process and. preserve normal-functioning follicles and hair growth. This will prevent further hair loss.
If effective. starting early can minimize overall hair loss. Many hair-loss products are expensive. Prescription plans will generally cover the cost of medications prescribed as treatment for androgenetic baldness. It's important to remember that until a cure is found. treatment will be a long-term. continuous process.
Write to Dr. Kendall Sprott. at Children's Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. N.J. 07112. Or e-mail him at ksprott@sbhcs.
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