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Immune attack can cause bald patches



DEAR DR. DONOHUE: After shampooing my hair, I looked in the mirror and found a large bald patch near my ear. I screamed. I can comb my hair to hide it. Does this mean I am about to lose all my hair? Is there a treatment for it? — A.A.

ANSWER: With a fair degree of confidence, I can say you have alopecia areata, bald patches that vary in size and number. Close to 4.5 million American adults and children suffer from this condition every year. Like so many other illnesses, it’s the result of an immune system gone berserk. The immune system attacks hair follicles, the skin pores that are homes for each hair. What turns on the immune system to do this is something that waits to be discovered.

As heartbreaking as alopecia areata is in the short run, there is high hope of complete restoration of hair in time. Around 50 percent will have hair regrowth within a year even if no treatment is given.

Treatments exist to speed the healing process. One is injection of a highpotency cortisone drug, like triamcinolone, into the bald patch. Another treatment consists of applying an allergen directly to the bald spots. The reaction it produces leads to hair regrowth. The allergen often chosen is DPCP, diphenylcyclopropenone. These are only two of the options open to alopecia areata patients.

Hair follicles retain the capacity to regenerate.

Complicated alopecia areata can affect the entire scalp and body hair. These are not common instances, when you consider the entire population of sufferers of this malady.


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My father was colorblind. Of his four daughters and one son, two of his daughters were colorblind. I just found out that two of his three grandsons and eight of his nine great-grandsons are colorblind.

How common is this? — S.

ANSWER: Colorblindness affects 8 percent of men, but only 0.4 percent of women. It is, therefore, 20 times more common in men than women. It’s surprising that two of your sisters have it. Less surprising is the number of grandsons and great-grandsons with it.

Most colorblind people get along in life without much trouble. And most have some degree of color perception. A very few see the world only in grays, black and whites.

Readers may write Dr. Donohue or request an order form of available health newsletters at P. O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853- 6475.

©2013 North America Synd.

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