August is National Hair Loss Awareness Month. While many people may be too embarrassed to talk about it, hereditary hair loss–which is often a genetically-driven male- and female-pattern baldness–affects over 80 million people in the United States.
It is normal to shed hair on a daily basis; it’s estimated that we each lose 50-100 hairs each day (especially on days during which we shampoo our hair). But if you notice patches of thinning hair on your scalp or a significantly increased amount of hair shedding, it’s a good idea to speak to a professional, such as your family doctor, nutritionist, or dermatologist, so that they can determine if you have hair loss–and if so, if it’s being caused by an underlying health problem that should be treated.
There are many hair loss triggers that don’t relate to genetics. According to The Huffington Post, some of the more common ones are:
- Medications. Meds that contain hormones, such as birth control pills, are often culprits. Medicines to treat fungal infections, arthritis, depression, and blood pressure issues can also trigger hair loss.
- Illness. Illnesses can interrupt hair’s natural cycle of growth/regrowth, especially if a high fever has been a component of said illness. The good news is that hair often starts growing back once the illness has gone away.
- Thyroid disease. When there’s an imbalance in the thyroid hormones, this can trigger hair loss. Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) can each cause hair loss. Your doctor can check on what your thyroid’s up to through blood tests.
- Stress. Life-altering events such as a death in the family or a divorce can also interrupt the hair cycle. This issue tends to affect women more often than men. Hair loss caused by a stressful event generally doesn’t manifest itself until 2 to 4 months after the stressful event has happened.
- Major weight loss. Losing over 15 pounds–even if done so through healthy means–can trigger hair loss. Hair generally starts regrowing on its own in this case. However, if the weight loss has happened as a result of anorexia or bulimia, hair loss can be more extreme because the person isn’t allowing the body to take in the proteins it needs to keep hair healthy.
- Nutritional deficiencies. Protein and iron deficiencies (including but not limited to anemia)can contribute to hair loss. Gluten sensitivity and celiac disease can also lead to hair thinning and/or loss because the body’s immune system attacks hair growth.
- Alopecia areata. This is an autoimmune disease that often causes round patches of baldness on the scalps and bodies of men and women.
- Menopause. Menopause is a hormonal process, so it’s likely that these hormonal changes could contribute to hair loss that occurs during menopause.
- Trichotillomania. This disease makes the 4% of Americans who have it compulsively pull out chunks of hair from their scalp and eyebrows; the cause of the disease is unknown.
- Hair care. Excessive use of hair care treatments and heat-based hair tools–perms, flat-ironing, bleaching, hair relaxers, hair coloring, blow dryers, etc–can lead to hair loss. And people who wear their hair in very tight styles that pull at the scalp (such as tight ponytails, weaves, tight braids) can have a condition called traction alopecia. It’s often not too difficult to bounce back from hair loss that happens for these reasons, as hair often starts growing back on its own soon after the harmful hair habits are stopped.
If you suspect you may be suffering from hair loss, make sure you speak to a professional about how you can begin fixing this issue. Your doctor, nutritionist, or dermatologist may do a physical examination of your scalp, do some blood work, switch out a medication you’re taking, recommend supplements and vitamins that promote hair growth, or recommend changes to your diet in order to encourage your hair to start growing back. If you don’t currently have a family doctor or dermatologist and feel that you need one to help you combat your hair loss issues, a patient advocacy service like Health Advocate can help you find a provider that meets your needs. Also check into whether your employee benefits package includes any type of nutritional or wellness advice or education; Health Advocate’s Wellness Coach can help its members get the health and wellness information they need on de-stressing, maintaining a hair-healthy diet, and more.