Alopecia, which is the medical term for hair loss, is a very common condition. It is widespread and can affect anyone. Men, women, and even children are susceptible to suffering hair loss. It can be a devastating condition because it can cause life-altering changes to a sufferer’s self-esteem, relationships, and career.
What is Hair Loss?
Hair Loss is when one sheds an excessive amount of hair for a period of time. It happens as a result of hair follicles shrinking or dying, causing the hairs hosted in the affected follicles to come off. Causes vary greatly from genetics, to illnesses, prescription medications, stress, diet, and aging.
How Does Hair Loss Occur?
Each of us are born with approximately 100,000 hair follicles. A single follicle can grow as many as four hairs at one time. Since we do not generate more follicles as we mature, it is critically important to retain healthy follicles and to maximize the number of hairs growing from each follicle in order to avoid visible hair loss.
For you to be able to understand how hairs are lost, it is important to know first how hairs grow. The hair shaft is the part of the hair which goes visibly above the skin. Beneath the surface of the skin, the hair begins its life, rooted in a follicle. A structure called the dermal papilla is connected to each hair root. Over time, cells rapidly divide inside the dermal papilla. As these cells reproduce, they bond together, forming the hair shaft which begins its fascinating growth upward and out of the skin.
The normal hair growth process is comprised of three stages which are known as Anagen, Catagen, and Telogen. In the Anagen Stage, the hair is actively growing in the follicle. Its growth continues until it goes out of the skin and lengthens. This stage can last anywhere from two to eight years. During the Catagen Stage, the hair begins to pull away from the dermal papilla, beginning a transition. When this occurs, the hair stops growing because it is no longer able to get nourishment. Resting occurs during the Telogen Stage, which means the hair is now inactive and resting in its place. The three stages of hair growth then repeats as the Anagen Phase begins again — often pushing out the old hair and replacing it with new hair.
This cycle is continuous among the living and productive follicles. At any given day, each of our hair strands is going through one of these phases.
Hair shedding is normal at all stages of our life. It is expected for a healthy head of hair to shed about 50 to 100 strands daily. Every day, about 85% of our hairs are in the Anagen (or growing) phase, while around 10-15% will either be in the Catagen (transitional) phase or the Telogen (resting/shedding) phase. This means that there will always be hair shedding.
Hair loss, which is excessive hair shedding, occurs when the cycle is disrupted because of follicles shrinking or dying. When this happens, it will be impossible for hairs to survive and continue to attach to the root. This forces the affected hairs to enter the Telogen or Anagen phase prematurely. Hairs are shed because they haven’t received enough amount of time to strengthen and grow.
The causes for this are wide-ranging. The most common of them are genetics, illnesses, certain types of medication, diet, and aging. Some cases are associated with sudden changes relating to stressful things such as moving out, moving in, graduating, marrying, and/or a death of someone with significance.
How is Hair Loss Diagnosed?
The Norwood Scale is often used as a determinant of the extent of hair loss in men.
On the other hand, dermatologists refer to the Savin Scale to identify the degree or severity of hair loss for female patients. Female hair loss happens as a progressive thinning all over the affected person’s scalp; which is different from male hair loss that usually begins with hairline receding and crown thinning.
When diagnosing for hair loss — for men, women, or children — a medical professional will also:
- interview the person about medical and family history (to identify if it is a case of genetics), and
- conduct a physical examination of the patient’s head. Androgenetic/Androgenic Alopecia (the most common type of hair loss) is diagnosed based on the appearance and pattern of hair loss. The scalp will be magnified and examined using a tool like the densitometer. This will assess the degree of how much the hair follicles have shrunk.
The above steps will help a medical professional assess the condition and identify the proper course of treatment. Sometimes though, additional tests are necessary to help diagnose a more serious case of hair loss. Here are some of them:
- Pull test – a hair pulling test to see how many strands of hair come out. This determines the current stage of the shedding process.
- Blood tests – to uncover possible medical conditions associated with hair loss.
- Scalp biopsy – a sample of scalp is taken to examine hair roots. Scalp biopsy will tell if an infection is causing the hair loss.
- Light microscopy – hair strand trimmed at their bases will be examined using a special tool to uncover possible disorders of the hair shaft.
- Hormone-level tests – to identify if there is an underlying medical condition causing hormonal imbalance leading to hair loss.
How is Hair Loss Affecting Lives?
According to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, in 1992, 60% of men who experienced male-pattern hair loss are said to have a huge shift on their social lives, affecting them in devastating ways such as being “ridiculed for their baldness.” Seventy five percent of them say that their self-esteem plunged at an all-time low during the onset of losing excessive hair.
Aside from men, women also suffer from this condition and make up about 40% of sufferers. It is said to have affected the way they presented themselves to other people, some even resorting to staying in hideaway until the problem is completely resolved. A study with women who have alopecia, conducted by Hunt and McHale and published by the British Medical Journal, also showed that about 63% of them have career-related problems and 40% of them suffered marital problems because of their hair loss.
This may also come as a surprise to some, but children are also affected by this condition. Experiencing early and premature hair loss is also taking its toll on the affected youth. A specific type of hair loss, known as Alopecia Areata, usually targets young people — children of about 5 to 12 years old. It is reported that 1 out of 1000 children has this condition, with 5% of them developing a worse form of hair loss called Alopecia Totalis (total baldness). This leads to the children opting for reclusion (out of fear of being bullied or judged). They also tend to look at themselves differently and often have very low self-esteem.
For most people who are not able to adjust well, hair loss can cause depression and bouts of anxiety. This, in turn, causes even more hair loss as a result of chronic stress. People who are already sufferers of psychological conditions such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) are even further aggravated when affected by hair loss.
This can really be devastating to most of the sufferers, but thankfully, there are several options for cure and treatment available. These will be further discussed in The Definitive Guide to Hair Loss Treatment.