Hair loss (alopecia) can affect just your scalp or your entire body, and it can be temporary or permanent. It can be the result of heredity, hormonal changes, medical conditions or a normal part of aging. Anyone can lose hair on their head, but it’s more common in men.
Baldness typically refers to excessive hair loss from your scalp. Hereditary hair loss with age is the most common cause of baldness. Some people prefer to let their hair loss run its course untreated and unhidden. Others may cover it up with hairstyles, makeup, hats or scarves. And still others choose one of the treatments available to prevent further hair loss or restore growth.
Before pursuing hair loss treatment, talk with your doctor about the cause of your hair loss and treatment options.
What are the types of hair loss?
There are three: anagen effluvium, telogen effluvium and FPHL.
Anagen effluvium: This is caused by medications that poison a growing hair follicle (like chemotherapy).
Telogen effluvium: This is caused by an increased number of hair follicles reaching the telogen phase, which is the stage where hair falls out.
Androgenetic alopecia/female pattern alopecia/female pattern hair loss (FPHL)/baldness: This type is the most common. Hair thins over the top of the head and on the sides.
Hair loss symptoms
The main symptom of alopecia is losing more hair than usual, but this can be harder to identify than you might think.
The following symptoms can provide some clues:
- Widening part. If you part your hair, you might start to notice your part getting wider, which can be a sign of thinning hair.
- Receding hairline. Similarly, if you notice your hairline looking higher than usual, it may be a sign of thinning hair.
- Loose hair. Check your brush or comb after using it. Is it collecting more hair than usual? If so, this may be a sign of hair loss.
- Bald patches. These can range in size and can grow over time.
- Clogged drains. You might find that your sink or shower drains are clogged with hair.
- Pain or itching. If you have an underlying skin condition causing your hair loss, you might also feel pain or experience itching on your scalp.
Hair Loss From Thyroid Problems
Either an underactive thyroid, a medical condition called hypothyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, can result in hair loss because each condition causes a hormonal imbalance. Hormones help to regulate nearly every function in the body, including hair growth. Getting the right treatment to control either of these thyroid conditions will get hormones under control, stop hair loss, and allow your hair to starting grow back.
Thinning Hair Following Pregnancy
Other hormonal imbalances can also lead to hair loss, especially the wildly fluctuating hormones that occur following pregnancy and childbirth. It takes time after pregnancy for hormone levels to return to normal, so it’s not at all uncommon for post-partum moms to notice thinning hair or even patches of baldness. This often occurs about three months after baby’s arrival. Don’t worry — as the rest of your body recovers, so will your hair follicles. The hair loss is only temporary — your hair will grow back.
Hair Loss Due to Medications
Hair loss is a side effect of a number of medications taken for common health problems. Blood-thinning medications, oral contraceptives, drugs for depression, NSAIDs, and beta and calcium channel blockers can all lead to thinning hair or baldness. Too much vitamin A and vitamin A-based drugs called retinoids can cause hair loss as well. Some chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer are known to cause total hair loss as they work to destroy cancer cells. Just as hair usually grows back after chemo, it should also grow back once you stop taking any medication that causes hair loss.
- A number of factors can increase your risk of hair loss, including:
- A family history of balding on your mother’s or father’s side
- Significant weight loss
- Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and lupus
- Poor nutrition
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you are distressed by persistent hair loss in you or your child and want to pursue treatment. For women who are experiencing a receding hairline (frontal fibrosing alopecia), talk with your doctor about early treatment to avoid significant permanent baldness.
Also talk to your doctor if you notice sudden or patchy hair loss or more than usual hair loss when combing or washing your or your child’s hair. Sudden hair loss can signal an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.
To prevent hair loss, people may want to try:
- lifestyle changes to reduce stress.
- eating a nutritious diet that includes proteins, fats, and certain vitamins and minerals.
The following may also help to stop further hair loss:
- using a lightweight shampoo and conditioner to avoid weighing down the hair.
- avoiding tight hairstyles.
limiting the use of heating processes that can damage the hair.
How can I prevent hair loss?
There are a few things you can do to minimize hair loss:
Keep hairstyles loose. If you regularly style your hair into braids, buns, or ponytails, try to keep them loose so they don’t put too much pressure on your hair.
Avoid touching your hair. As much as possible, try not to pull, twist, or rub your hair.
Pat hair dry. After washing, use a towel to gently pat your hair dry. Avoid rubbing your hair with the towel or twisting it within the towel.
Aim for a nutrient-rich balanced diet. Try to incorporate plenty of iron and protein into snacks and meals.
Styling products and tools are also common culprits in hair loss. Examples of products or tools that can affect hair loss include:
- blow dryers
- heated combs
- hair straighteners
- coloring products
- bleaching agents
If you decide to style your hair with heated tools, only do so when your hair is dry and use the lowest settings possible.
If you’re currently losing hair, use a gentle baby shampoo to wash your hair. Unless you have extremely oily hair, consider washing your hair only every other day or less.