Figuring out your next step after losing your hair is hard. After all, hair loss can severely hamper our self-confidence and make us feel less attractive. We may even feel paralyzed and not know what to do next.
But hair loss or alopecia is a common condition that can affect anyone at any age. It may be temporary or permanent. It can also happen suddenly or gradually over many years.
If you’re experiencing hair loss and aren’t sure what to do next, this quick guide is here to help you out.
Symptoms of Hair Loss
Are you really losing hair? Here are the most common symptoms of hair loss that can give you clues about your condition:
- Loose hair in brushes, combs, bedding, and around the house
- Widening part on your scalp
- Receding hairline
- Bald patches
- Pain or itching
Causes of Hair Loss
Different types of hair loss have various underlying causes. Understanding them will help you deal with your hair loss better. Here are the various types of hair loss and their causes:
Androgenetic Alopecia or Pattern Baldness
It affects 50% of men and women and is the most common type of hair loss. It occurs due to an increased response to male sex hormones called androgens.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that affects more than 6.8 million people in the United States and 147 million people around the world. With this hair loss condition, a person’s immune system attacks their hair follicles which leads to small or large bald patches and even total hair loss.
If you have alopecia areata, you’ll experience hair loss on the scalp and other body parts such as your eyebrows, eyelashes, and beard area.
This condition causes rapid hair loss due to chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Hair typically regrows once the treatment ends.
Telogen effluvium is a form of sudden hair loss that arises due to trauma, acute illnesses, malnutrition, or hormonal changes like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause.
Also known as ringworm of the scalp, this fungal infection affects the scalp and hair shaft, causing small bald patches (called kerions) that are itchy and scaly. If not treated early on, the patches will become bigger over time, fill with pus, and result in scarring.
Excessive pressure on the hair from wearing tight hairstyles like buns, braids, or ponytails causes this condition.
Diagnosing Hair Loss
As hair loss has many causes, it’s best to consult a dermatologist early on if you see any symptoms. A dermatologist will look at your family and health history, including any recent life stressors, illnesses, and surgeries. They will also do a physical examination to get to the root of the problem.
If they suspect a skin or autoimmune disorder, they may do a biopsy of your scalp. This procedure involves the careful removal of small fragments of the skin for lab testing.
The dermatologist may have to do other tests too so they can identify the cause of your hair loss. For example, they may do blood tests to rule out nutrient deficiencies or underlying medical conditions.
Hair Loss Treatment Options
Depending on the cause and condition of your hair loss, your dermatologist may prescribe any one or a combination of the following treatments:
Oral or Topical Medications
Over-the-counter (OTC) oral or topical medications are typically used as the first course of treatment for most types of hair loss. Topical medications often contain a drug called minoxidil that is available as creams, solutions, gels, or foams that are directly applied to the scalp.
Oral medications like finasteride (sold under the brand name Propecia) prevent or slow androgenetic hair loss, especially among men. Anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroids may be prescribed if an autoimmune condition is potentially causing your hair loss.
Hair Transplant Surgery
This procedure involves transplanting healthy hair follicles to bald patches of the scalp.
This treatment suits people with hereditary hair loss as they usually lose hair on the top of their heads. Some types of hair loss are progressive which may require you to undergo repeated procedures.
Note that hair transplants may not help people with scarring hair loss.
When To Consult a Dermatologist About Hair Loss
If you’re experiencing sudden or unexplained hair loss, see a dermatologist. A dermatologist will explore underlying factors and prescribe the best treatment plan. Share important details such as when you started losing hair, its severity, and any family history of hair loss or baldness.
Make sure to inform your dermatologist about other unusual symptoms that you’ve recently noticed such as:
- Rashes or other changes in the skin on your scalp or body
- Changes in bowel movements
- Sudden weight loss
- Diet or nutritional changes
- New medications or immunizations
- Recent medical procedures or surgeries
Hair loss is a distressing condition but knowing what to do can help you treat it early on and restore your hair and confidence. If you’ve been losing a great deal of hair, don’t be afraid to take action and consult a professional. With the right treatment, you may be able to stop or slow down its progress.