When people are stressed, they often joke about wanting to tear their hair out. Stress can actually lead to hair loss in some people, though, with a condition called telogen effluvium. If you are suffering from telogen effluvium, you might lose handfuls of hair at a time, far more than the 100 or so hairs a person typically loses in a day- this is described as shedding.
Determining the cause of your hair loss determines how you can treat it. The treatment for telogen effluvium is different than the treatment for female baldness, for example. If you suddenly notice that you are shedding more hair than usual, seeing a hair loss and hair transplant specialist will help you figure out the cause of the loss and the best course of action.
The Telogen Phase
Hair goes through three phases of growth. The last stage is the telogen phase. Typically, about 10 percent of the hair on your head is in the telogen phase.
During this period, a piece of hair is finished growing and is considered to be “resting.” After about three months, you’ll naturally shed the hair. You can spot a strand of hair in the telogen phase by the small bulb at the tip of it when it falls out. The bulb signals to you that the hair fell out naturally, and wasn’t broken.
While in a healthy scalp up to 90 percent of the hair follicles are actively growing and producing hair, when telogen effluvium develops, the number is reversed. The condition can cause up to 90 percent of the hair to enter the telogen phase. It usually takes about three months for the condition to become obvious, as telogen hairs rest on the head for that length of time before falling out.
Depending on the type of condition a person has, hair loss due to telogen effluvium can last a short period of time or it can be ongoing. People with the acute form of the condition might lose hair for a couple of months. The chronic form of telogen effluvium can mean hair loss that persists for six months or longer.
What Triggers the Hair Loss
A number of factors can contribute to telogen effluvium. Significant stress or a short-term shock to the body are two common causes of the condition. For example, some women develop the condition right after giving birth, due to the sudden changes in hormone levels in the body. A severe injury or high fever can also lead to a person developing the condition.
There are also cases when the condition develops as a side effect or reaction to a medication a person takes. Medications that can trigger telogen effluvium include beta blockers, retinoids and lithium. Women who stop taking hormonal contraceptives might also develop hair loss.
Telogen effluvium can also be connected to a person’s diet, particularly if the diet is limited in protein and iron, which contribute to hair growth. Regularly going on crash or fad diets, which restrict a certain type of food or limit a person’s nutritional intake, can also trigger the condition.
Persistent stress and exposure to triggers can mean that a person develops a chronic form of telogen effluvium, rather than the acute version. People with chronic telogen effluvium might notice that the hair on their scalp is thinning, but might not notice an increase in shedding.
Telogen Effluvium and Androgenetic Alopecia
While telogen effluvium can occur on its own, in some cases it might occur as an early sign of androgenetic alopecia, or male or female pattern baldness. When a person has female or male baldness, more of the hairs on the head are in the telogen phase. Once the telogen hair is shed, it takes longer for the follicle to enter the active phase again, if it ever does.
Treating Telogen Effluvium
Figuring out the cause of telogen effluvium is key to effectively treating it. In many cases, removing the trigger, whether it is persistent stress, a poor diet or medications, will help the condition resolve on its own. For example, if the condition is related to low hormone levels, taking medication to raise the hormones can help. If it’s related to a low iron intake, a person can take supplements. Laser light therapy seems as well to provide an improvement in the majority of patients.
If the telogen effluvium is an early sign of female or male pattern baldness, hair transplant surgery can be a patient’s best option. Properly diagnosing the cause of hair loss and stopping the shedding is essential before any treatment can begin. A consultation with Dr. Epstein can help you learn the cause of your hair loss and decide the best option for you. For an appointment in the New York office, contact Dr. Epstein at (212) 759-3484. To schedule a consultation in Miami, call the office at (305) 666-1774.