Hair loss or alopecia is a common phenomenon of the hair growth cycle. Most hair on the scalp, about 90%, is in a growing phase while about 10% of hair is in its resting phase. Resting hairs fall out after a period of 3–4 months and new hairs grow in. It is normal to lose some hair as a part of normal hair growth, but when the hair loss is severe it is considered a disorder.
Hair loss can happen in the following patterns:
- Traction alopecia –This occurs when you tie ponytails very tight causing stress on the hair follicles and eventually hair loss.
- Cicatricial alopecia – Also referred to as scarring alopecia, this is seen in conditions such as lichen planus and discoid lupus erythematosus. The inflammation destroys the hair follicles.
- Androgenic alopecia –This type of hair loss is a characteristic male-pattern or female-pattern baldness. In this condition, the growth phase of the normal hair is short and they fall off easily.
- Trichotillomania: It is a mental condition in which the person develops an urge to pull out his own hair causing patchy areas of baldness.
- Telogen effluvium – This may be caused as a result of shock, either emotional or physical.
Common causes for hair loss are:
- Chronic illness or major surgery: You may lose large amounts of hair due to stress caused by illness or surgery.
- Hormonal imbalances: Imbalance in male and female hormone levels and thyroid gland secretions can cause hair loss.
- Medicines such as anticoagulants, birth control pills and antidepressants can cause hair loss as an adverse effect.
- Fungal infections of the scalp
- Poor nutrition
- Underlying Disease: Hair loss appears as an early symptom of some underlying diseases.
Your doctor may prescribe medicines that help slow the loss of hair or prevent baldness. They include:
• Corticosteroids –anti-inflammatory drugs which are used to treat hair loss are available in the form of injections, oral preparations or skin creams.
- Local injections –The medicine is directly injected into the hairless patches on the scalp. New hair grows in the region in about 4 weeks.
- Oral corticosteroids – Oral medicines are prescribed for short periods if the hair loss is due to autoimmune disorders.
- Topical ointments – Steroid ointments or creams are applied directly to the affected area.
• Minoxidil (5%) –promotes hair growth. Minoxidil is a FDA-approved drug for treating male and female pattern hair loss. The solution is applied twice daily to the scalp. It can also be used in the eyebrow and beard areas. New hair grows in about 12 weeks.
• Anthralin–This is a tar-like substance often recommended for use in combination with other treatments.
• Topical sensitizers are medicines which produce an allergic reaction when applied to the scalp causing itching, scaling, and eventually hair growth. These include squaric acid dibutyl ester (SADBE) and diphenylcyclopropenone (DPCP).
• Photochemotherapy –A light-sensitive drug called psoralen is given either orally or topically and then exposed to an ultraviolet light source.
• Alternative Therapies–These include acupuncture, aroma therapy, zinc and vitamin supplements.
• Hair Loss Surgery
- Hair Transplant is a procedure in which plugs of hair are taken from areas of the scalp where hair is thick and placed where there is hair loss.
- Follicular transplants: In this procedure single hair follicle is removed and placed where there is no hair follicles.
- Scalp rotation: In this procedure, an area of your scalp with good hair is taken and placed in the area of poor hair growth.
• Hair loss can be prevented by maintaining good hair hygiene and eating foods rich in iron and vitamin B.
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For more information from the American Academy of Dermatology click here.