Hair loss is experienced by millions of people worldwide and can affect people of all ages. This condition often has a negative impact on self-esteem and in some cases it may be a symptom of an underlying health problem. This is why it’s important to be familiar with the most common hair loss causes and their symptoms.
Alopecia is the most prevalent type of hair loss, since recent statistics suggest that nearly 150 million people all over the world are or will be affected by it at some point in their lives. There are different types of alopecia, and each has its own symptoms and causes. Here are some of the most common types:
- Androgenic alopecia, also known as male or female pattern baldness. It’s believed that up to 50% of men and 55% of women will experience this type of hair loss. The causes tend to be genetic both for men and women, and they’re also linked to hormonal imbalances. The symptoms vary: in male pattern baldness, hair starts to thin around the hairline and crown and may include bald spots, whereas women tend to experience generalised hair thinning or a widening part.
- Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease whose causes are still being researched. This type of hair loss may also be a side effect of health problems ranging from thyroid disorders to allergies or rheumatoid arthritis. The tell-tale sign is the appearance of bald patches all over the scalp. Hair lost due to alopecia areata will regrow after 6 to 12 months, and in the meantime other bald areas may develop.
- Traction alopecia, which is caused by using hair relaxers and hair extensions or by hairstyles that pull on the hair, such as tight cornrows or ballet chignons. Over time, these hairstyles put a lot of pressure on the scalp and follicles, giving rise to a receding hairline and patches of thinning hair. If left untreated, traction alopecia can permanently damage the follicles and stop new hair from growing.
Telogen effluvium is an episode of major hair loss triggered by an event that puts the follicles under stress. The events can include anything from childbirth to undergoing surgery, and including taking certain medications, thyroid problems, severe stress, anaemia, psychological trauma, poor diets leading to vitamin or mineral deficiencies, or extreme weight loss, among many others. This type of hair loss can be disconcerting since usually hair begins to fall 3 months after the trigger event, so the person affected by it isn’t always able to pinpoint the cause. Symptoms are excessive hair loss (300+ hairs per day) and generalised hair thinning, and may be more noticeable after washing the hair or brushing it. Usually, a telogen effluvium episode lasts up to 6 months, after which hair begins to grow back.
Other hair loss causes
In addition to the situations described above, hair loss can occur due to other causes. For example, certain fungal infections can develop on the scalp and cause the hair to fall. Ringworm and tinea are some of these infections. Folliculitis (the inflammation of follicles) can also cause hair loss, usually in the form of balding patches. This condition has multiple triggers, which are similar to those that cause alopecia. Moreover, medical research suggests there’s a link between heart disease and hair loss, especially in men. Insulin resistance is also another factor to consider since it affects blood circulation, which is needed for a healthy scalp.
In any case and irrespective of what may cause hair loss, it’s important to get a professional diagnosis and personalised treatment as soon as the first symptoms appear.