Hair Loss

Tracey Sullivan Pharmacy Features Writer

It is normal to lose between 50 and 100 hairs a day. Even though it may look a lot on your brush, when you consider we have around 100,000 hairs on our head, this amount of hair loss is pretty minimal. The hair we lose each day is continually replaced by new growth but sometimes this new growth can stop either abruptly or over a period of time. Hair loss can be permanent or temporary, depending on the cause. With abnormal hair loss, you may notice a more than normal amount of hair on your hairbrush, or in the bottom of the shower. You may experience thinning of the hair or baldness.

The most common cause of hair loss is hereditary male- or female-pattern baldness. This type of hair loss can run in families, even starting as early as puberty when hormones in the body start to change.

Hair loss that isn’t due to a hereditary condition can have many causes – from the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, giving birth, stopping an oral contraceptive and during menopause to a major illness, surgery or traumatic event such as a death in the family, high fever or extreme weight loss, although usually in these cases the hair will start growing back without treatment. Other triggers of hair loss can be severe nutritional deficiencies caused by a diet lacking in iron, protein and some other nutrients, thyroid disease and autoimmune disorders such as lupus and alopecia aerata (an autoimmune disease that attacks hair follicles), chemotherapy medicines, hormonal medicines and medicines used to treat high blood pressure, arthritis, depression and heart disease.

‘Traction hair loss” is caused by hairstyles that pull the hair back very tightly and put pressure on the hair follicles. Similarly, trauma to the scalp caused by using harsh hair products can contribute to hair loss. Scalp infections such as ringworm can also cause hair loss.

Prevent hair loss
There are some ways to prevent hair loss and keep the hair healthy and strong. Eating an adequate amount of protein is important as hair is itself a form of protein. A diet containing a good amount of red meat, eggs, chicken, fish, grains, tofu, certain cheeses, nuts and beans helps maintain normal hair production. Looking after your hair is also important – avoiding excess heat on the hair from blow dryers and hair straighteners, avoiding tight
hairstyles such as buns, tight ponytails and plaits, and avoiding hair products that contain perfumes, colouring agents, bleach, perms or relaxers. Consider washing your hair less frequently and pat it dry rather than rubbing it. Try and avoid twisting, pulling or rubbing hair.

Hair loss treatments
There are several treatments available to treat hair loss. Some are in the form of topical foams or lotions and are applied directly to the scalp. Minoxidil is a common ingredient and can be used by both men and women. It may stimulate limited hair growth in some people, but only while it is being used. Products containing minoxidil are available from pharmacies.

Prescription medicines such as finasteride are available to treat male-pattern baldness. This medicine is taken daily to slow hair loss. Finasteride needs to be used continuously for about three to six months before any real difference will be seen. Once treatment is stopped, any hair growth will be reversed after 6 to 12 months.

Corticosteroids are given to people with alopecia aerata to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation.

Medical procedures such as hair transplantation surgery involves moving a small plug of skin that contains a few hairs to the bald area of the scalp and has a more permanent result.

If you think your hair loss is more than normal it is important to see a doctor so that the underlying cause can be investigated, and you can be started on a suitable treatment. With some types of hair loss, the sooner the treatment is started, the better the outcome.

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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