Hair loss, or alopecia, is a troubling affliction for men and women of all ages, including children. It may present as thinning of the scalp hair, or as patches that are completely bald. Shedding may occur suddenly or slowly over time. Hair loss may accompany changes to the underlying skin of the scalp, but in many cases, it does not. A number of conditions can cause you to lose hair; fortunately, hair loss treatment can help. Effective treatment begins with a hair loss evaluation to determine why you are losing your hair.
A number of conditions can cause hair loss. Hereditary male- or female-pattern baldness is a major cause of hair loss, for example. Major illnesses, surgeries, or traumatic events can cause hair loss, as can hormone changes from with pregnancy, childbirth, or menopause. Thyroid disease, scalp infections, and alopecia areata can trigger the loss of hair. Medications to treat cancer, high blood pressure, and other diseases might also cause hair loss.
Symptoms of hair loss include:
Your dermatologist will begin your evaluation of hair loss by gathering information about your hair loss, such as how long you have been losing hair and if your hair loss came on quickly. Your skin doctor may ask if there are patterns to your hair loss, find out the type of hairstyle you usually wear, and whether hair loss runs in your family. Some details, such as the food you eat, may provide insight into your hair loss.
Next, your dermatologist will examine your scalp for signs of inflammation, redness, scars or sores. Your skin doctor will look closely at your hair to determine how much hair you are losing, and whether your hair is breaking.
The skin doctor will also perform a hair loss evaluation test to assess the health of your hair. A hair loss evaluation test often includes the pull and tug test to measure the severity of your hair loss. Your dermatologist may perform a card test to evaluate the health of your hair shafts and to assess the number of new hair strands that may be growing. In this test, your dermatologist parts your hair then holds a felt-covered card against your scalp. New hair strands are visible against the card, making it easy for your dermatologist to count and examine the new hairs.
Yes! Depending on the findings during your hair loss evaluation, your dermatologist can personalize a hair loss treatment plan, especially for you. Your hair loss treatment plan may include at-home treatment with Minoxidil (Rogaine®) or office treatment with corticosteroid injections or laser therapy. Your dermatologist may prescribe medications that can slow down hair loss, speed up hair growth or increase the thickness of each hair.
In addition to a thorough history and examination, it may be useful to perform a scalp biopsy, examine the hair under a microscope, or order blood tests to pinpoint the cause of alopecia. After a diagnosis is made, treatment options include topical or oral medications, corticosteroid injections, immunotherapy, and light therapy.