It is absolutely normal to leave behind a few strands of hair on your brush or in the shower every now and then. But how much is too much when it comes to signs and symptoms of hair loss? When are the loose hairs on your pillow just the temporary effect of a stressful time and when should they be cause for concern?
Experiencing hair loss, for whatever reason, can be very distressing to anyone, regardless of age and gender. And statistics show that, sooner or later, most of us are going to experience some form of hair thinning. 53% of men will lose hair by the age of 49, while 40% of women over 70 also experience pattern baldness  .
The sooner the problem is acknowledged, the sooner it can be treated. That is why it is very important to be aware of what causes hair loss, as well as to look out for the main signs and symptoms of hair loss.
What causes hair loss?
Dermatologists believe that losing 50 to 100 of your 100,000 or so hairs per day is normal and not a reason for concern . However, if your hair is falling out at a considerably higher rate than that, you are probably experiencing hair loss. This can happen for a multitude of reasons. Here are the most frequent hair loss causes:
1. Age and genetic inheritance
Most of us experience some hair loss in older age, due to a natural decline in the function of hair follicles. For many people, though, this can happen sooner rather than later, through an inherited condition commonly known as male/female pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia). This condition causes the hairline to recede in time and for bald or thinning spots to appear on the scalp in distinct patterns.
2. Gender differences
While men are more likely than women to experience hair loss, the problem affects both genders. More than 85% of men and 55% of women are expected to lose hair at some point in their lives. Men tend to lose their hair younger and in a more defined pattern, with hair receding around the temples and thinning on the crown. Women, meanwhile, are more likely to notice hair loss along their parting, or evenly across the scalp.
3. Autoimmune disorders
Not all forms of alopecia can be blamed on your parents. There is also an autoimmune disorder, named alopecia areata, which causes damage to hair follicles, making your hair fall off in spots. Other autoimmune diseases can also cause hair loss.
4. Hormonal imbalances
Whether caused by disease, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, excessive testosterone levels, or by something as natural as pregnancy or menopause, hormonal imbalances can frequently result in hair loss among other symptoms.
5. Side effects of treatments and medication
The medical treatment which is the most infamous for causing hair loss is chemotherapy. However, there are many other medications which have the same unwanted side effect, even some commonly administered ones such as beta-blockers. If you feel that your hair loss may be caused by a certain prescription drug you are taking, please discuss your concern with your doctor, as it can be unsafe to interrupt treatment abruptly.
6. Diet and lifestyle aspects
Not getting sufficient nutrients, such as iron, zinc, and vitamin D, can cause hair loss, as can getting excessive doses of other nutrients, such as Vitamins A and E. Learn more about the impact of vitamins on hair growth.
Furthermore, losing a significant amount of weight over a short period of time can lead to hair thinning, becoming brittle and falling out. This is why hair loss is a common symptom for people suffering from eating disorders. Living a stressful lifestyle is also commonly related to hair loss, among other negative effects this has on your mind and body.
7. Poor styling choices
Frequently using hair products that can damage the follicles, such as hot rollers or other high-temperature appliances can, in time, lead to your hair falling out. Furthermore, keeping your hair tied too tightly on a regular basis can lead to a condition known as traction alopecia.
What are the symptoms of hair loss?
Now that you are aware of what can cause your hair loss, here are its most common tell-tale signs, which should prompt an appointment with your dermatologist or trichologist:
1. A visible thinning of the hair on the top of your head
This is one of the first and most common hair loss symptoms but may take a while to spot, especially in people with shorter hair. If you want to catch this sign of hair loss early, try taking a picture of the hair on the top of your head every few weeks and compare the first picture you took with the latest. If you are a woman, pay close attention to the size of the line which parts your hair – if it widens towards the top end, it may suggest hair thinning in that area.
2. A receding hairline
This is particularly common in men, who may experience faster receding particularly on the frontal sides of the head, creating a “peninsula” effect. If you notice that your hairline is becoming U-shaped rather than linear, it may be time to go in for a checkup with your GP or dermatologist, as it’s a frequent sign of male pattern baldness.
3. Patchy bald spots
One unmistakable sign of hair loss is noticing your hair falling out only in certain areas on your scalp, creating a pattern of thinning or balding spots. This is frequently a symptom of alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition that affects the hair follicles. We wrote an article on how to spot balding spots on the crown and how to cover them up.
4. Itchy, burning, or painful scalp
If you notice unusual tenderness, itching, or burning in certain areas of your scalp, you may have an infection of the hair follicles (folliculitis), a parasite (such as ringworm), or a skin condition such as eczema. This may cause hair loss if left untreated, among even more serious health problems, so you may want to seek medical assistance if such symptoms persist beyond a few days.
5. Hair loss which happens suddenly
Waking up one day to find clumps of hair in your hand as soon as you run your fingers through your locks can be quite distressing. This usually happens on a psychological background, from severe stress or in the wake of a traumatic event (bereavement, shock, being the victim of a crime, etc). In most cases, the hair loss resolves itself naturally as soon as the body’s stress response has subsided.
6. Hair loss on several areas of the body
If the hair on your head is not the only one falling out, but you notice similar hair loss symptoms on other parts of your body as well (eyebrows, beard, chest, legs, etc.), you may want to look at any treatments or medication that you are taking. While most people are aware that chemotherapy is a frequent cause of hair loss, some other drugs can also lead to this, such as certain blood pressure medication. The good news is that this type of hair thinning is usually naturally reversed when the treatment stops.
How likely am I to lose my hair?
Only a medical professional can tell you for certain whether you are at particular risk of losing your hair, however, there are several factors that are known to increase the likelihood of this happening at some point in your life:
- Men are significantly more predisposed than women to full or partial baldness.
- The intensity of your hair falling out grows with age, so if you are already experiencing hair loss symptoms, you can expect them to progress in time.
- If you are a male, taking a look at the other men in your biological family (father, grandfather, older brothers) can give you an idea of how likely you are to lose your hair, as male pattern baldness is usually inherited on a paternal line.
- Leading a stressful life and unhealthy eating habits can predispose you to develop hair loss at some point in your life .
- Taking medication or treatments which have hair loss listed as a potential side effect will increase your risk of hair loss, albeit a temporary one.
- Styling your hair using heat-based products or wearing it tied tightly in the same style on a daily basis (such as ponytails and cornrows) can predispose you to temporary or permanent hair loss .
Knowing what causes hair loss is a great way to avoid risk factors and ensure you’re living the right lifestyle to encourage healthy hair growth.
What to do if you’re experiencing hair loss
While it is very helpful to know what to avoid and what to look out for when it comes to the signs and symptoms of hair loss, self-diagnosis is rarely a good idea. If you have any concerns or reasons to suspect that you may be experiencing this condition, do not hesitate to contact a trichologist as soon as possible. They will be able to let you know exactly what is causing your symptoms and what you can do to alleviate them.
There are many potential treatments for hair loss, including FUT and FUE hair transplants, vitamin infusion therapy, and medications like Minoxidil and Finasteride. Find out more about hair loss and treatments in our hair loss FAQ.
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