Hair loss can affect the scalp or the entire body. Hair loss or baldness refers to the excessive loss of hair from the scalp. This can be the result of genetic or hormonal changes that can be hereditary. It can affect anyone – males, females and even children.
Otherwise called alopecia, it has been a big concern among many individuals and there are many treatment options available, including medicines, hair restoration methods, and hair replacement.
2Types of hair loss or alopecia
Male-pattern baldness is the most common type of hair loss. This is more prominent with age and it affects about half of all men when they reach the age of 50. The hair loss will typically begin when they reach their late 20s and early 30s. Male pattern baldness is slow progressing since it starts with a receding hairline, followed by the thinning of the hair on the temples and crowns and it will affect the upper part of the scalp, creating a horseshoe shape around the sides of the head.
Typically, this type of hair loss runs in families. It’s more common in males due to the excessive male hormones in the body that lead to oversensitive hair follicles. On the other hand, female pattern baldness is less severe and it affects the top of the head. There is no baldness but just thinning of the hair.
Alopecia areata is the type of hair loss characterized by the development of patches of baldness. The patches are the size of a coin and it can affect the scalp. However, it can be seen in the other parts of the body.
The condition can affect anyone of any age but commonly, it is seen among teens and young adults. The cause of alopecia areata is thought to be related to the immune system. Many studies have shown that this condition is caused by autoimmunity wherein the body’s immune system mistakenly targets or kills the healthy cells.
Scarring alopecia is also called cicatricial alopecia, which is commonly a complication of another medical condition. This is permanent since the hair follicles, where the hair grows are permanently damaged. The most common causes of this type of baldness include lichen planus, scleroderma, folliculitis decalvans, discoid lupus, and frontal fibrosing alopecia.
Anagen effluvium is characterized by a widespread hair loss that can affect the face, body, and scalp. This is often caused by chemotherapy, a treatment option for cancer. In most cases, this is just temporary and the hair will grow again after the treatment.
Telogen effluvium is a common type of alopecia where there is a widespread hair thinning and not patches. The main causes of this condition are hormonal changes (pregnant women), intense physical stress, emotional stress, severe infection, surgery, cancer,
liver disease, crash dieting, and some medications.
Hair loss can be seen in various ways, depending on its cause. The major signs and symptoms include:
Bald spots – Some individuals may have bald patches which are about the size of a large coin. This is usually seen on the scalp but it can occur anywhere in the body.
Gradual thinning on the top of the head – This is the most common type of baldness. In men, it starts with a receding hairline.
Full-body hair loss – This type of hair loss is the result of common medical treatments like chemotherapy.
Sudden hair is loosening – Some people who experience intense emotional or physical shock can make the hair loosen, making it easier to fall out when bathing, combing or washing the hair.
Millions of individuals across the globe experience hair loss. Some people may have their hair regrow but for others, they may need treatment or the hair will never regrow.
There are many causes of hair loss.
Hereditary – The most common cause of hair loss and it affects both men and women.
Alopecia areata – Studies have shown that this is an autoimmune disease, wherein the body attacks its cells. As a result, patches of baldness are seen on the scalp and other parts of the body.
Cicatricial (scarring) alopecia – The hair follicles become damaged, leading to hair loss. The hair cannot regrow and lead to permanent baldness.
Illness or disease – Significant hair loss can be seen during disease or surgery.
Hair loss can happen when someone has a high fever, flu, severe infection and even a major operation or surgery.
Other medical conditions – Other medical conditions may lead to hair loss. Anemia and thyroid disease are some of the diseases linked to hair loss.
Cancer treatments – Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy can lead to hair loss. This is temporary because as soon as you stop the procedure, the hair will start to regrow.
Ringworm – The presence of ringworm on the scalp may lead to baldness.
Childbirth – After delivering the baby, some women may experience hair loss due to the decreasing estrogen levels.
Trichotillomania – This disease is characterized by the excessive pulling of their own hair.
Menopause – Menopause is a common cause of hair loss among women due to the decline of female hormones.
Stress – Stress from a traumatic event may lead to baldness.
Sudden weight loss – A person who had lost more than 15 pounds may trigger hair loss.
Protein deficiency – When the body does not get the needed protein, hair loss may occur.
Vitamin A – Too much vitamin A in the body may lead to hair loss.
Iron – When you’re not getting enough iron in the body, it may lead to hair loss.
Hair Care – Hairstyle and the products you use may cause hair loss.
There are numerous causes of hair loss. Because of this, finding the true cause can be difficult.
Some factors may increase the risk of hair loss, including:
- Family history
- Poor nutrition
- Certain medical conditions and autoimmune diseases
Finding the cause of hair loss is very difficult because there are many causes of hair loss. A dermatologist may begin with asking for a medical history and conduct a physical examination.
Some of the questions he or she will ask to include the medicines you are taking, the allergies you have, if you have been dieting and if you have other conditions that can lead to hair loss.
A physical examination will entail the dermatologist looking at the scalp to determine possible causes of hair loss. The other possible diagnostic tests include:
- Pull test – The doctor will try to pull some hair and see if any will fall out. This will help identify the phase of the shedding process.
- Blood test – A blood test may be recommended to determine the presence of other medical conditions associated with hair loss.
- Light microscopy – The doctor will use a special instrument to assess hairs trimmed at the bases. This can help reveal hair shaft disorders.
- Biopsy of the scalp – The doctor will take samples of the skin on the scalp and a few hairs to be sent to the laboratory for testing.
Treatments are effective for some types of hair loss. However, some hair loss kinds are considered permanent. There is no overnight treatment for hair loss. Most of the available treatment options may need a couple of weeks to months before they become effective.
Medicines – If the hair loss is caused by a medical condition, the treatment will focus on the condition. Taking the medicines for the condition will resolve the hair loss. For pattern baldness, however, here are the medicines commonly prescribed:
Finasteride (Propecia) – This is usually prescribed for men. This will help slow hair loss and also aid in new hair growth, though slower than the usual. The rare side effects include the reduced sexual function and sex drive. Also, it could increase the risk of prostate cancer.
Minoxidil (Rogaine) – This medicine is available over-the-counter in a liquid form that is used by rubbing unto the scalp. This will help prevent hair loss and can aid in slow regrowth of the hair.
Surgery such as hair restoration or transplant can help maximize the hair that is left. In the procedure, the doctor will remove the plugs of skin containing hair from the back of the scalp and implants them to the hairless areas. Though this is effective, it is expensive and may lead to risks of scarring and infection.
For those who want an immediate solution to the problem, wearing a wig is an alternative to medical treatment. It can cover both permanent and temporary hair loss.
Here are some ways to prevent the other types of hair loss, particularly the preventable ones:
- Eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet
- Avoid rubbing or pulling hair
- Avoid harsh hair treatments like flat irons or perms
- Avoid tight hairstyles like ponytails and braids
- Wash and brush the hair gently and use a wide-toothed comb