Alopecia areata is an unpredictable hair disease affecting about two percent of the world’s population and is the second most common type of hair loss after hereditary baldness. It is often called spot baldness or patch baldness due to its patchy, balding pattern. In severe cases, it can affect the whole scalp (alopecia totalis) or the entire body (alopecia universalis). It is not known what causes alopecia areata. It is thought to be an autoimmune disease triggered by a person’s autoimmune system, which decides to attack its own hair follicles. Sometimes the hair grows back a few years later and stays and sometimes it falls out again. Although there is no treatment for alopecia areata that works completely, some treatments have been proven to improve this condition. The most popular treatment option, which does not require a doctor’s prescription, is topical minoxidil, such as Rogaine. It can be used alone or in combination with other medicinal treatments that will be discussed later.

The most common prescription treatments for alopecia areata happen to be corticosteroid shots, injected straight into the bald spot, and steroid gels and creams. Corticosteroid injections are a more effective but also the more painful option of the two. The aim of this method is to suppress the autoimmune reaction but it has been proven to work only on small bald spots. Another common treatment for small bald spots, which is also thought to affect the autoimmune reaction, is the application of topical anthralin. Anthralin is a tar-like substance used to treat psoriasis.

Topical immunotherapy is the most common type of treatment for extensive alopecia areata. It uses an immunosuppressant such as cyclosporine that is applied to the skin to cause a skin reaction similar to mild eczema, which in some cases leads to hair re-growth. This approach is also the most drastic form of treatment, causing a number of negative side effects.

Another treatment applied for extensive alopecia areata is PUVA, which stands for "psoralen plus ultraviolet A radiation", consisting of a topical or oral application of psoralen, followed by ultraviolet radiation. This method is usually better tolerated than topical immunotherapy but it is also less effective.

A recently conducted research study with sulfasalazine also spells some promise for patients with severe cases of alopecia areata. Sulfasalazine is an anti-inflammatory medication originally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and is hoped to soon be used to treat alopecia areata.

This is the overview of the most common medicinal treatments for alopecia areata. There obviously is a number of other alternative therapies that are claimed to improve this condition and do not require a doctor’s visit. Consumers should be aware that none of these products has ever been clinically shown to be effective in treating alopecia areata and such claims are possible only because these products are not regulated pharmaceuticals but non-regulated cosmetic products.

Author's Bio: 

The author of this article is the editor of a website dedicated to treating different types of hair loss, including alopecia areata and other hair conditions such as dandruff and premature gray hair. Visit his blog to read and/or write a consumer review on any hair care product you have used and thus share you experiences with other readers.