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How to Gain Control Over Alopecia

Wednesday, January 29, 2020 1:29 PM

Alopecia areata, which affects an estimated 7 million Americans, is a condition in which your immune system launches an assault on your hair follicles, leaving behind one or multiple circular bald patches. Alopecia can be triggered by stress, so try to eat well, sleep well and adhere to a regular exercising routine.


“We know that alopecia areata can have a profound negative effect on self-esteem and can lead to anxiety and even depression,” notes Stephanie Mehlis, MD, Director of NorthShore’s Dermatology Clinical Trials Unit. “It affects patients of all ages, even young children and teenagers, by mistakenly attacking their hair follicle roots, which is where hair growth begins.”

“Traditional treatment for alopecia areata typically begins with topical foams—and if those don’t work, we move to steroid injections directly into the scalp to stimulate hair growth,” explained Dr. Mehlis, who serves as lead investigator on the NorthShore team studying a different approach. It is an oral medication called a JAK inhibitor.

"JAK inhibitors are an exciting class of new medications that are currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat other inflammatory autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis,” said Dr. Mehlis, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. “Through our clinical trial, we’ll hopefully get a much better understanding of the pill’s effectiveness and long-term safety in patients who have alopecia areata.”

Dr. Mehlis and her team are specifically evaluating the most effective JAK inhibitor dosage to treat the condition. The hope is that the FDA will grant approval for the drug to treat alopecia areata. The study includes patients who are age 12 or older and have experienced severe hair loss for more than six months.

Dr. Mehlis noted that study participants travel long distances to NorthShore to take part in this worldwide clinical trial, which involves monthly checkups. “Initial trials for this new treatment option had fantastic results, and we’re excited to be able to continue offering patients hope through this ongoing research.”

As of right now, there are other options that provide relief to patients with alopecia areata. Dr. Mehlis also recommends:

  • Corticosteroid injections: This helps hair regrow and the injections are usually given every 4 to 8 weeks as needed. It’s considered the most effective treatment for people who have patchy hair loss.
  • OTC Minoxidil: By applying this product 2 to 3 times per day, you can stimulate hair growth in the scalp, beard and eyebrow area.
  • Corticosteroids Application: This is a medication that you apply to bald spots once or twice a day instructed by your dermatologist. This type of treatment tends to be less effective in adults rather than children.
  • Anthralin: Apply this medication to bald spots, let it sit on the skin and then wash off.
  • Dandruff Shampoo: If there’s any flaking or irritation use gentle dandruff shampoo like Selsun Blue.

For more information about alopecia, reach out to NorthShore's Hair Clinic