Hair loss (alopecia) is a condition that causes hair to fall out in small patches, affecting the scalp and the entire body. It may be temporary or permanent, usually occurring as heredity or due to hormonal changes, medical conditions, and even a normal part of growing older.
Losing hair on the head is most common in men. Baldness occurs when excessive hair falls from the scalp, mainly it is a hereditary hair loss that comes with age.
Many people consider taking hair loss in its natural way untreated and unhidden, and several others look for ways to cover it up with hairstyles, makeup, hats or scarves. And some look for treatments to limit hair loss or restore growth. It is best to talk to the doctor before pursuing hair loss treatment to understand the cause of your hair loss and varied treatment options.
Hair loss may happen in many different ways and for various reasons. It can happen suddenly or gradually, affecting the scalp and sometimes the whole body. The main indications are:
• Gradual thinning on top of head: This type of hair loss occurs as people age. For men, hair falls starts to fall at the hairline on the forehead, and older women have a declining hairline as frontal fibrosing alopecia.
• Circular or patchy bald spots: For some, hair loss causes circular or patchy bald spots on the scalp, beard or eyebrows. The skin may feel itchy or painful before the hair falls out.
• Sudden loosening of hair: This follows a physical or emotional shock causing the loosening of hair. A handful of hair may fall while combing or washing or even after gentle tugging of hair, leading to temporarily hair thinning.
• Full-body hair loss: This is usually due to some medical conditions and treatments, like chemotherapy for cancer, causing hair loss of the entire body, which generally comes back.
• Patches of scaling spread over the scalp: It indicates ringworm and is accompanied by broken hair, redness, swelling and, sometimes, oozing.
Visit the doctor when continuous hair loss causes stress, and you want to get a treatment done. Women need to talk to the doctor early when experiencing a receding hairline (frontal fibrosing alopecia) to prevent significant permanent baldness.
Also, consult the doctor when there is a sudden or patchy hair loss, or you see a significant hair loss when combing or washing the hair. It may indicate an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.
Generally, all people lose 50 to 100 hairs a day that isn't noticeable as new hair replace the hair that has fallen out. Hair loss happens when new growth of hair does not occur, typically due to the following factors:
• Family history (heredity): If it is a hereditary condition, it will happen as you age, known as androgenic alopecia, male-pattern baldness and female-pattern baldness. It occurs gradually and in predictable patterns, hairline hair fall and bald spots in men and thinning of hair at the crown of the scalp for women.
• Hormonal changes and medical conditions: Multiple conditions may cause permanent or temporary hair loss, such as hormonal changes during pregnancy, childbirth, menopause and thyroid problems. Also, medical conditions like alopecia areata - an immune system associated disease or patchy hair loss, scalp infections due to ringworm, and a hair-pulling disorder known as trichotillomania causes hair fall.
• Medications and supplements: Sometimes, hair loss is a side effect of certain drugs, like medications for treating cancer, depression, arthritis, heart problems, gout and high blood pressure.
• Radiation therapy to the head: Radiation therapy causes hair to fall, and then the hair will not grow in the same way as before.
• Stressful events: Many people may experience a general thinning of hair after a physical or emotional shock for several months, which is a temporary condition.
• Hairstyles and treatments: Excessive hairstyling or hairstyles treatments can also cause hair loss as some hairstyling may pull the hair tight, pigtails or cornrows, causing hair loss called traction alopecia. Hot-oil hair treatments and permanents may also lead to hair fall, and if scarring occurs, hair loss will be permanent.
Various factors can raise the risk of hair loss, like a family history of balding on either parent's side, ageing, significant weight loss, stress, or medical conditions like diabetes, lupus, and poor nutrition.
Commonly, baldness is genetics (male-pattern baldness and female-pattern baldness) that is not preventable. Here are tips to prevent other avoidable types of hair loss:
• Be kind with your hair, use a detangler, don't do tugging when brushing and combing in wet hair. Use a wide-toothed comb to limit hair pull out. Don't do any harsh treatments like using hot rollers, curling irons, hot-oil treatments and permanents. Always lessen and avoid the tension on hair caused by styles that need rubber bands, barrettes and braids.
• Check with the doctor about medications and supplements you take that may contribute to hair fall.
• Prevent the hair from sunlight and other sources of ultraviolet light.
• Avoid smoking as studies highlight an association between smoking and baldness in men.
• For those getting chemotherapy, consult the doctor about a cooling cap to help reduce your risk of losing hair during chemotherapy.
Chief Arthur Mbanefo, 91 years old, former ambassador to the UN and Representative of Nigeria, thanks the American Hospital Dubai for the excellent medical treatment and personalized care he received.