#12 Treating my alopecia

Because I have very little happening in my life this weekend that is of interest to other people, I thought I’d talk a little about treatment for alopecia. Now, I can only really talk about the different styles of treatments that I myself have had for 2 reasons; 1) I know very little of other treatments available and 2) I can’t actually remember the official names of the treatments I’ve had, so “styles” is what we shall settle for.

Let’s start right at the beginning. After a rather confusing visit to my local GP where my mum was very upset that she had found a bald patch on the back of my head and was slightly horrified to find out I had alopecia (I don’t really understand that – it’s not horrific) I was sent to my nearest hospital’s dermatology department. The first treatment I tried was a week long course of 4 steroid tablets a day. At this point in my life, I had an irrational fear of taking tablets and my mum had a daily battle to get me to swallow the things. They were tiny, but it didn’t make a difference to me, I was still terrified of them. Turns out the steroids didn’t make a difference to my alarming hair loss, which in the space of two months had gone from a patch the size of a 50p piece on the back of my head to nearly everything but a few bits of hair on either side of my parting (which was now 3cm wide). Needless to say, I shaved off those last remaining straggles rather quickly, as the elasticated bandana I’d been wearing to school was barely covering the patches anymore. After another month or so of no new growth (and the last bits of recently shaved stubble falling out) I tried the next round of steroids – a drip over the course of 3 days. I was really amused by this one as it meant that I got to miss school. Or at least, I was amused until I realised that that meant sitting in a children’s ward filled with screaming toddlers for hours every day. The first day was the worst. Because the drip was pretty nasty as a chemical, I had to have numerous blood tests taken to test for any underlying stuff that may be affected, for example diabetes or even cancer. Thankfully, after a painful 8 hours of waiting for the results to come back (painful on my eardrums) I was all in the clear and could start my drip. More needles, what joy. I went home that evening with a canister in my hand, which hurt like hell with any movement. I thought that was normal, but when I went back the next day, they put a new one in my other hand, saying that it wasn’t meant to hurt so something obviously wasn’t quite right. The new one didn’t hurt at all, it was merely just uncomfortable. The next two half-hour drip sessions were really boring, just sitting still with all the screaming babies with a machine pumping this toxic thing into my arm. I watched far too much Cbeebies for a 12 year old over those 3 days.

Unfortunately, the drip didn’t do a thing either, so it was back to the drawing board with fixing my baldness. By this time, I’d had alopecia for about 3 months and in that time I’d had the rumours and assumptions circulating round my year that I had cancer. My form were (rather strangely) not the people who were bothered, as they all saw me every day and had had the decency to ask me what was going on. The girls spreading rumours didn’t actually know me, so I just ignored them. They went away as people got the courage up to ask me what I had and so the cancer rumours got corrected with “no, she’s not dying, she’s just got alopecia so she’s going bald”.

Small funny side track here – no one noticed I had no eyebrows for at least 6 months. Even then it was only because someone was complaining about having to pluck her eyebrows and I just shrugged and said “don’t think I’ll ever have to worry about that”.

Anyway, so steroids didn’t work. The last treatment we tried was a chemical called DCPN, which is used in developing photographic film – so very nasty stuff. Instead of being an internal treatment like the previous steroids, this was applied to the skin directly using soft fuzzy applicators (which were a sort of mix between pipe cleaners and plastic coffee-stirrers. We used this treatment for nearly a year before it showed any sign of improvement, but this was because we were working our way up in concentrations. We started on 0.01%. Then 0.05, 0.1, 0.5, then 1%. We finally cracked it when we reached 2%. According to my consultant, she had only treated 2 people with 2% DCPN before, so I was a special case. For most people, the DCPN starts working on either 0.1 or 0.5%, so I definitely was in the running for “most stubborn immune system of the year” if I was on the 2%. This thankfully worked. Although the chemical was itchy and left my head bright red for a few days after each weekly treatment, over the course of  18 months I saw quite a lot of new hair growth. Te hair started off unpigmented, so I had a later of white hair, and then it went from light brown to the dark brown that is now considered to be my natural colour. At the time, this confused everyone, as all the hair that had fallen out had been blonde.

Everything was going so well! I was halfway through my GCSEs, I had a somewhat stylish short hairstyle, and I was getting more hair growth by the week.

Shame it didn’t last when the Mock exams happened. After those, it was back to really obvious patches. Damn. So back on the DCPN. I managed to get the majority of that hair to grow back for my actual exams and prom the next year, but this was when we started to pick up on the exam trigger. As soon as the holidays after my exams finished began, I was back to square one. I lost every scrap of hair on my body again.

Instead of jumping straight back into the DCPN treatment (which was always a pain in the hotter, sweatier months), I decided with my consultant to just leave my hair, and see if it would just come back on it’s own. At first, I was sceptical, but by Christmas, I did have some regrowth. Never enough to stop wearing my bandana, but enough to prove the point that actually, after exams, my hair would grow back on it’s own. I haven’t had any treatment since, and it’s been nearly 2 years. Because it’s such a high stress time in my life, I haven’t had much hair growth in the last year, which is why I moved to wigs a few months ago. But now that I know that it will come back on it’s own eventually, it is nice not to have harmful chemicals slapped all over my scalp regularly.

Treatments work differently for every individual case of alopecia because each case is specific to the person. I’m probably not the only teen out there who has exam stress as their specific trigger, and some people never truly determine what sets their alopecia off, but at least I’m very lucky that my hair will at least grow back on it’s own eventually. I don’t think I will ever have natural eyebrows or lashes again, but luckily for me, even people with naturally growing brows and lashes use beauty products to create them, so I still look like a normal teen to the unknowing eye.

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