Also called alopecia, hair loss is not fun, and affects people in different ways and to varying degrees. For the majority of the human race, hair loss affects just the scalp. For some people though, hair loss affects the whole body. Hair loss can be permanent or temporary. It can occur as a normal part of aging, and it can be the result of medical conditions, hormonal changes, or genetics.
There are a few brave souls that allow hair loss to run its course without hiding it and without treating it, but most people cover hair loss with scarves, hats, makeup or new hairstyles. At one point or the other, most people will also seek out and choose one of the many treatments available to tackle hair loss, whether to prevent further loss or to restore growth.
But first, what are the symptoms of hair loss?
Depending on what's causing it, hair loss appears in many different ways, in some cases coming on gradually and in other cases very suddenly. Whichever way it occurs, here are some of the symptoms and signs of hair loss:
Gradual thinning from the top of head: Most hair loss occurs this way, and this symptom is typically associated with aging. Men, for one, experience hair receding at the hairline on the forehead. Women, on the other hand, often experience a widening of the part in their hair and/or a receding hairline.
Rapid loosening of hair: This symptom often occurs when someone is undergoing stressful situations or sudden emotional or physical shock. When washing or combing out the hair, you may experience handfuls of hair coming out. The good news is that this is often temporary, even though it causes overall hair thinning.
Patches of scaling spreading over the scalp: Sometimes accompanied by swelling, redness, broken hair, and at times, oozing, this symptom of hair loss is also a sign of ringworm.
Patchy or circular bald spots: Some people lose their hair in patchy or circular bald spots on the scalp, eyebrows, or beard, with the skin becoming painful or itchy before the hair falls out.
Full-body hair loss: Certain medical treatments and conditions can result in the loss of full body hair.
What causes alopecia?
All human beings lose hair every day for as long as they live, somewhere between 50 to 100 hairs a day. As we also grow new hair every day, the hair that we lose is not so obvious. Hair loss or alopecia is said to occur when there is no new hair growing to replace the one that has fallen out.
Hair loss is usually as a result of any of the following factors:
Heredity: Your family history is a strong determinant whether you will suffer hair loss at one time or the other in your future, as the most common reason for hair loss is heredity. This is why some women suffer from female-pattern baldness while others do not, and why some men suffer from male-pattern baldness and some men do not. Whether in a woman or in a man, hair loss that occurs as a result of heredity is called androgenic alopecia, and usually occurs in predictable patterns and does so gradually.
Hairstyles and hair treatments: If you usually have on hairstyles that pull your hair tight such as cornrows and pigtails, or you style your hair excessively, you may suffer from a type of hair loss called traction alopecia. Also, cosmetic procedures such as dyeing, bleaching, perms, and excessive shampooing may lead to overall hair thinning, as does using hot curlers and rollers too often.
Hormonal changes: When some people experience hormonal changes brought on by thyroid problems, menopause, childbirth, or pregnancy, they may experience some form of hair loss. Beyond hormonal changes, experiencing a rise in androgens, a male hormone normally produced by both men and women, may cause some people to lose their hair.
Some medical conditions: There are certain medical conditions that affect the immune system and causes hair to fall out. One of these, and perhaps the most commonly known is alopecia areata, a disease that causes patchy hair loss. In alopecia areata, the immune system for unknown reasons doubles up and attacks the hair follicles. Medical conditions such as iron deficiency anaemia, lupus, diabetes, and thyroid disease can also cause hair loss.
Supplements and medications: Sometimes, alopecia can be the result of using certain medications or supplements, such as medications used to treat high blood pressure, gout, heart problems, depression, arthritis, and cancer.
Radiation therapy: People who have undergone or who are undergoing radiation therapy around their head area may find that they hair does not grow back or does not grow back as before.
A very stressful event: There are certain people who report a general thinning of hair after they experience an emotional or physical shock. In some cases, this thinning hair does not show up until months after. This type of alopecia is often temporary.
Diet: Persons who are on a severely calorie-restricted diet or who are on a low-protein diet may suffer from temporary hair loss.
Menopause: Hair loss happens a lot during menopause, but this is often temporary, and the hair regenerates with time, although the hair may not be as full as before.
Weight loss: You may experience hair loss if you lose weight drastically, and this kind of hair loss usually becomes apparent three to six months after losing the weight.
Too much Vitamin A: If you are taking in too much vitamin A in the form of medicines or supplements, your hair may start to fall out.
Iron deficit: If you don’t have high enough levels of iron, you may suffer from hair loss.
Types of hair loss
Involutional alopecia: As we age, our hair gradually thins, and more hair follicles enter into the resting phase, while the remaining hairs become fewer in number and shorter.
Androgenic alopecia: Affecting both men and women, androgenic alopecia is a genetic condition that shows up in a receding hairline and slow disappearance of hair from the frontal scalp and crown for men (called male pattern baldness) and a general thinning over the entire scalp, with the most far-reaching hair loss at the crown for women (called female pattern baldness). For men, androgenic alopecia can appear as early as in their teens or early 20s, while women who have this hereditary condition may not experience noticeable thinning until their 40s.
Alopecia areata: This kind of alopecia often starts without warning, most typically in young adults and children, and manifests itself in patchy hair loss. Most people who suffer from this condition however experience a regrowth of the hair within a couple of years. Alopecia areata may also graduate into alopecia totalis, which is another name for complete baldness.
Alopecia universalis: In this case, all body hair falls out, including pubic hair, eyelashes, and the eyebrows.
Telogen effluvium: This is when someone experiences temporary hair thinning over the scalp resulting from changes in the growth cycle of hair. As more hair concurrently enter the resting phase, this causes hair shedding and subsequent thinning.
Trichotillomania: This is a psychological disorder that compels an individual to pull out his or her own hair, and this may eventually lead to baldness.
Scarring (Cicatricial) alopecia: This is where inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, folliculitis, and cellulitis, and other skin conditions such as some kinds of lichen planus and lupus often result in scars that destroy hair’s ability to regrow. A particular kind of scarring alopecia called central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia often occurs in women of African descent. Beginning in the centre of the scalp, this kind of alopecia radiates outwards and the affected area becomes shiny and smooth.
Risk factors for hair loss
These are certain factors that may predispose you to lose your hair. These factors are:
Aging: If you are getting on in age, you are at a higher risk of losing your hair, at least some of it.
Family history: if you have a family history of hair loss on either side of your family (mother or father), you are more likely to suffer from hair loss.
Drastic weight loss.
Specific medical conditions, such as lupus and diabetes.
How to prevent hair loss
There is really nothing anyone can do to prevent male-pattern baldness or female-pattern baldness. To prevent hair loss arising from other causes however, you will do well to follow the following tips:
Treat your hair gently: Don’t tug at tangles. Use a detangler or a wide-toothed comb instead when you are combing or brushing, especially when the hair is wet. Also make sure that you avoid harsh treatments such as permanents, hot-oil treatments, curling irons and hot rollers. And make sure that you avoid having very tight hairstyles.
Protect your hair from sources of ultraviolet light, most especially sunlight.
Inquire about a cooling cap if you're undergoing chemotherapy, as this reduces the risk of losing hair during chemotherapy.
Treatments for hair loss
Suffering from hair loss? you may want to look into the following treatments:
Medical treatments: There are topical treatments that you can rub into your scalp that can encourage hair to grow. Some of these topical treatments are however usually effective only for people with limited alopecia areata. There is also topical immunotherapy in which a chemical such as diphencyprone is rubbed on the skin to instigate an allergic rash. This rash, which resembles poison oak, may induce new hair growth within six months, but the treatment has to be continued if the growth is to be maintained. There are also steroid injections and oral treamtnets such as cortisone tablets.
Light therapy: Also called phototherapy or photochemotherapy, this is a kind of radiation treatment that uses a combo of UV light and an oral medication called psoralens.
Natural treatment: There are many natural treatments that can be used to boost hair regrowth and some of these are probiotics, microneedling, acupuncture, essential oils like tea tree, rosemary, peppermint, and lavender, low-level laser therapy (LLLT), and aromatherapy. Other forms of natural treatments are scalp massage, herbal supplements, such as saw palmetto, Chinese hibiscus, green tea and ginseng, and vitamins, such as zinc and biotin. It is however important to understand that many natural (alternative) therapies have not been tested in clinic trials, so there are no data to back those up.
Surgical treatment: For persons suffering from permanent hair loss, surgical treatment is a good option. This may include hair procedures, such as scalp reduction, punch grafting, and slit grafting.
What else should you know about hair loss?
It is important to know that not all hair loss is permanent. In most cases, your hair will grow back, especially if the hair loss is little. The hair that grows back may be of a different texture and colour.
It is also important to note that there is a lower likelihood of regrowth if you lose a lot of hair.
Also understand that if your hair grows back, you may experience repeated occurrences of hair loss.
If you choose to treat your hair loss, it is important to understand that the effectiveness of each treatment outlined before now will vary from person to person.
There are those who won’t even require any treatment for the hair to grow back and there are those whose hair will not grow back no matter the treatment used. You may need to try more than one treatment to see a difference.