Among the many things that scare women, hair loss ranks high on the list and could affect the quality of life of the person involved while most men affected accept hair loss (baldness or receding hairline as it is commonly called) as a sign of aging. Hair loss, otherwise called Alopecia, may be described as the loss of hair from the head or other parts of the body where hair growth naturally occurs. Some people may describe it as their hair falling out. It is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from one person to another. Alopecia also occurs in healthy individuals and could be due to a lot of factors.
The hair has two parts – the follicle found in the skin and the shaft seen above the skin. The hair follicle has tiny blood vessels that nourish it. Also in close relationship with the hair follicle is the sebaceous gland that secretes sebum. To know more about the condition, it is very important to note that hair growth occurs in stages and different hair strands can be at different stage of growth cycle at a particular time. The stages of hair growth are described below.
GROWING PHASE: This is also referred to as the Anagen phase. In this phase, the length of the hair increases. It could last for years (sometimes between two to six years). Because of events which take place during the growing phase, it can be said that the longer the hair spends in the growing phase, the longer the hair will become.
TRANSITION PHASE: Here, the hair follicle shrinks and detaches from the inner layer of the skin. It is also known as the Catagen phase. It may last for about two weeks. It is in this phase that the hair follicle renews itself.
RESTING PHASE: Also called the Telogen or shedding phase. In this period the follicles remain dormant. The new hair growth begins while the old hair is resting and this could last for months. Finally there is the new hair phase, which involves the shedding of old hair while the new hair continues to grow. When hair in this phase and it is pulled out, a solid, hard, dry, white material will be noticed at the root. A certain amount of hair is lost at this stage each day.
This is considered a normal process and there could be shedding of about 50-150 strands of hair during the hair growth cycle. Each phase is very important as abnormality occurring at any level may affect the quantity and quality of hair growth. For instance, there may be excess shedding of hair and noticeable thinning when the hair enters the resting phase too early. The rate of hair growth as well as texture of hair may be affected by certain factors like age, gender, genetic factors and ethnic background, amongst others.
The cause of hair loss may be hereditary or acquired, permanent or temporary, with some common causes being alopecia areata (which is an autoimmune disease characterized by hair loss in round patches), hormonal changes (like pregnancy, childbirth, menopause), medical conditions like thyroid diseases, scalp infections (like ringworm), lupus, may also be side effect of some medications (for example, in the treatment of cancer, depression, hypertension), emotional stress, extreme weight loss, mental disorder (trichotillomania- where some people feel the need to pull out their hair), certain hairstyles that put pressure on the follicle by pulling the hair back tightly, poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle among many other causes.
Persistent hair loss may signify an underlying health condition. Your doctor or dermatologist can determine the cause of your alopecia and guide you through appropriate treatment. There are several modalities for treatment which include use of drugs, surgery (like hair transplant surgery) and many others.
WAYS INDIVIDUALS CAN PREVENT HAIR LOSS:
- Avoid the use of harsh chemicals on the hair. For instance excessive use of relaxers, colouring agents and others
- Limit pressure on the follicles by avoiding tight hair styles, especially those that put pressure on the scalp
- Restrict excessive application of heat to the hair. For example, from hair straighteners, heated combs, blow dryers and others
- Choose effective ways of managing stress
Therefore, next time you notice that cluster of hair on your comb after combing, you will be able to tell if it is a healthy hair loss or not and you can care for your hair better.