Nurse Mary: Why Am I Losing My Hair?

By Mary A. Drobnak RN, BSN

The medical term for hair loss is alopecia. Everyone experiences hair loss in his or her lifetime. Our hair goes through a cycle of growth, rest and re-growth varying by individual, but in general, the growth phase of scalp hair typically lasts from two to six years. During that time the hair grows approximately 1/2 inch (1.2 centimetres) a month. The resting phase typically lasts three to four months at which time the hair strand falls out and a new one begins to grow in its place. Once a hair is shed, the growth stage begins again. It is common and normal to shed 50 to 100 hairs each day. With about 100,000 hairs in the scalp, this amount of hair loss is normally not visible.

Although gradual thinning is a normal part of aging, some people may experience excessive (more than normal) hair loss. Hair loss of this type can affect men, women and children and can be caused for many reasons. For example, fungal infections of the scalp, such as ringworm, can cause hair loss in children and is easily treated with antifungal medicines. Stress from an emotional experience, illness or surgery can cause temporary hair loss. Poor diet lacking in iron and protein, an overactive or under-active thyroid, male or female hormone imbalances and some medications can also cause hair loss. Additionally, hair loss can be the early signs of diseases, such as lupus or diabetes. Sometimes simply improving one's diet, getting treatment for underlying conditions or correcting a hormonal imbalance can be the answer; however, getting properly diagnosed is important to receiving the right treatment if there is an underlying condition.

Other considerations: in women, excessive hairstyling or hairstyles that pull hair too tightly cause traction alopecia. If the pulling is stopped before there's scarring of the scalp and permanent damage to the root, hair usually grows back normally. Additionally, scalp and root damage can also be caused by hot oil treatments and chemicals from perms, colouring and straighteners. Women also may experience female-pattern baldness in which the hair can become thin over the entire scalp.

In men, male-pattern baldness is the most common cause of hair loss. In this case, hair loss typically results in a receding hair line and baldness on the top (crown) of the head. Baldness in men occurs when the follicle shrinks over time and fails to grow a new hair. Why this occurs is not well understood, but it is related to inherited genes and male sex hormones.

Depending on your type of hair loss, treatments may be available. Some people prefer to let their baldness run its course untreated and unhidden. Others choose hair growth medications and surgical procedures that are available to treat hair loss. Before pursuing any treatment option, talk with your doctor about possible causes and best possible treatments for your hair loss. And remember, recognise when you are overstressed, eat a nutritionally balanced diet, handle your hair gently and try to avoid twisting, pulling, tight hairstyles and chemical products that increase the chances of hair loss and premature balding.

Send Nurse Mary your health questions and concerns at [email protected]

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