While hair loss may not usually be a threat to your health, it can have devastating effects to your self-image and sense of well-being. Your hair has much more significance than the physiological purpose of regulating your temperature and providing protection for your scalp.
Americans spend over $10 Billion dollars per year on hair care with a significant portion allocated to hair loss concerns.
For most people it is a definition of their personality, style and fashion. When hair loss occurs it has a damaging effect to our psyche.
Your dermatologist is a highly skilled medical professional that devotes 3 years to specialty training that includes learning how to diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions that can affect the scalp and cause hair loss.
What causes hair loss?
The medical term for hair loss is Alopecia but there are many different types and causes. Both men and women may experience it in varying degrees from a slight thinning of the hair to complete baldness.
Examples of the most common hair loss disorders are:
- Alopecia Areata-an autoimmune condition in which the hair follicles are attacked by the body’s immune cells
- Androgenetic Alopecia-patterned baldness that develops in males and females due to hereditary and hormonal factors
- Telogen Effluvium-a condition associated with excessive hair shedding of hair several months after the body experiences a major stressful event.
- Chemical Hair Damage-hair becomes dry, and brittle and breaks off in pieces after being exposed to a chemical that is too harsh
- Traction Alopecia-hair loss due to pulling on the hair from tight braids or hair pieces
Hair loss may also be the result of underlying health issues such as anemia or thyroid abnormalities. You might have to get blood tests done to check for these diagnoses. Changes to your hair and scalp might indicate health problems such as diabetes or lupus or any number of other conditions therefore it is important that you take sudden changes in your hair seriously.
So, what should you do if you start losing your hair?
The first step in treatment of hair loss is to determine the cause. Visit your dermatologist to have them examine your hair and scalp and diagnose your disorder. Many forms of Alopecia are temporary or can be reversed with the proper medications or therapies. Other forms may cause scarring which can lead to permanent baldness, but can be slowed significantly through regular treatment sessions if the process is started early.
To properly diagnose your type of Alopecia your dermatologist will ask about your medical history, any recent illnesses you may have had and any medications you may be taking including over the counter medicines. Are you experiencing hair loss on your body as well as your scalp?
Your hair care routine is also vital information to share with your doctor. Such things as the hair care products you use, how often you shampoo and whether you color your hair or use a hair dryer are valuable bits of information that can help with your diagnoses. It is useful to bring these products in when you see the dermatologist for consultation.
They will also ask questions about other family members who may also have experienced hair loss to determine your genetic predisposition to baldness.
Most diagnoses’ are made through skillful evaluation of your scalp, hair and medical history but occasionally further medical testing is necessary. Again, these tests may include blood work to rule out underlying medical conditions, examination of a hair sample under a microscope or a skin biopsy to evaluate the scalp tissue of the affected area.
What hair loss treatments are available?
The dermatological treatments for hair loss available to you will depend on the cause of your Alopecia. These range from eliminating the causes if your hair loss is a direct result of your hair care regime to light therapy, prescription topical creams, corticosteroid injections and even hair transplants. The most important factor will be your knowing and understanding your condition and working with your dermatologist to help treat the problem and save your hair before it is too late.
In general hair grows about 1 inch every two and a half months. If you have a hair loss condition that lasts longer than two to three months then it is best to go ahead and see your dermatologist to get evaluated rather than waiting for years to see if the hair will grow back.