Scarring alopecia is relatively uncommon in infants and children and rarely discussed in the paediatric literature. It does not appear to have been previously documented as a consequence of compromised oxygenation and blood supply in the neonatal population or as a complication of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment. During a six month period, we observed five patients who presented to our neonatal intensive care unit with pressure ulcers that eventuated in scarring alopecia. The patients were all > or = 2500 g at birth, had some disruption of the cardiac circulation, were hypoxaemic and acidotic, and required vasopressor treatment. Institution of a positioning schedule and use of a thermostable Spenco gel pad during the subsequent six month period eliminated the presence of pressure ulceration and scarring alopecia in this at-risk population. Although scarring alopecia is a permanent condition, skin changes preceding its development in this setting are recognisable and follow a predictable pattern and time course, and should therefore allow for intervention at an earlier stage. Neonatal ECMO patients, as well as those who suffer hypoxaemia-hypoperfusion, but do not require circulatory bypass, appear to be at increased risk for development of the pressure ulcers that precede scarring alopecia. Paediatricians should consider this possibility and seek the appropriate historical information when confronted with a case of scarring alopecia after the neonatal period.
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