The most common causes of hair loss

The American Academy of Dermatology notes that 80 million men and women in America have hereditary hair loss.  Melissa Buesching, community outreach coordinator, The Parkview Center for Healthy Living – Warsaw, takes a few minutes to define alopecia (abnormal hair loss) and what we can do to address it.

What is considered an abnormal amount of hair loss?

Hair loss is normal. We all lose hair every day, whether it’s when we’re shampooing it, brushing it or curling it. Abnormal hair loss is known as alopecia. This condition occurs when the pattern of hair loss becomes uncharacteristic, signaling something has gone wrong in the body. In this case, it’s important for you to be proactive and take charge of your health. Your physician can help by performing one of the following:

  • Blood test – This can help uncover any medical conditions related to your hair loss.
  • Pull test – The physician will “pull” a small amount of hairs from your head to determine at what stage you are in the shedding process.
  • Scalp biopsy – A small sample of skin is removed from the scalp to determine root growth.
  • Light microscopy – A small instrument is used to examine the hairs trimmed at the base of the hair follicle.

What are common causes of hair loss?

Perhaps the most common culprit is genetics. Hair loss can be hereditary and generally, people prefer to let their baldness run its course untreated. Other common causes can be linked to symptoms of short-term events like stress, pregnancy, hormonal changes, disease, medical conditions and some medications. These are examples of what are usually temporary situations in which your hair will grow back once the distressing event or treatment has passed. Lastly, certain hairstyles or excessive hairstyling that pull your hair tight, like pigtails or cornrows, can cause alopecia. Hot oil hair treatments and permanents can cause inflammation of hair follicles, too, which can ultimately lead to hair loss.

What are the signs of alopecia?

Gradual thinning on the top of the head is the most common sign. In men, hair often begins to recede from the forehead in a line that resembles the letter “M”. Women typically retain the hairline on the forehead but have a broadening of the part in their hair. Some people experience smooth, coin-sized bald spots or patchy bald spots. This type of hair loss usually affects just the scalp, but can also occur in beards or eyebrows. In some cases, skin might become itchy or painful before the hair falls out. A physical or emotional shock can cause hair to loosen. Handfuls of hair might come out when combing or washing your hair or even after gentle tugging. This type of hair loss usually causes overall hair thinning and not bald patches. Some conditions and medical treatments, such as chemotherapy for cancer, can result in the loss of hair all over your body. The hair usually grows back. Patches of scaling that spread over the scalp are a sign of ringworm. It may be accompanied by broken hair, redness, swelling and, at times, release of a liquid.

Is diet/lifestyle linked to hair loss?

Definitely! Poor nutrition and lifestyle are linked to hair loss as well as family history, age, certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or lupus, and last but not least, stress.

Are there any effective treatments for hair loss?

There are effective treatments for some types of hair loss. However, unfortunately, some hair loss is permanent. With some conditions, like patchy alopecia, hair can regrow without treatment. Other treatments for hair loss might include medications, surgery, laser therapy, and wigs or hairpieces. Your doctor might suggest a combination of these approaches in order to get the best results. The ultimate goal of treatment is to promote hair growth, slow hair loss or hide hair loss.

How can someone handle the emotional stress of hair loss?

Our hair is such an identifier, or our “crown of glory” so to speak. We feel most confident when we’re having a “good hair day” or show off a new cut. It’s amazing how closely our hair is linked to our mood and self-esteem.  It seems vain to give it such significance, but it’s an important part of our appearance. After all, it’s a key component of our personal style. The ultimate irony is, when we feel stressed, many of us tend to play with our hair by either twisting or twirling it. 

The best way to handle the emotional stress of hair loss is to give yourself the time to grieve the loss of your hair, but quickly become your own advocate and schedule an appointment with your physician to understand what’s going on with your body. This way you are in control and taking a proactive approach to getting to a healthier you.

How can hair loss be prevented?

These are some tips that may help you avoid preventable types of hair loss:

  • Eat a nutritionally balanced diet.
  • Avoid tight hairstyles, such as braids, buns or ponytails.
  • Avoid compulsively twisting, rubbing or pulling your hair.
  • Treat your hair gently when washing and brushing. 
  • Avoid harsh treatments such as hot rollers, curling irons, hot oil treatments and permanents.
For more discussion on this topic, join Jill Zahm, RN, MSN, nurse navigator, certified faith community nurse, Parkview Center for Healthy Living for her class, Rapunzel’s Lost Locks: Understanding Female Hair Loss, on Friday, July 22, 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. at the Parkview Center for Healthy Living at the Parkview Warsaw YMCA. Call (260) 672-6500 or toll free (844) 835-0003 to re

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