Why does my hair fall out?

Most of us grow up with full hair and we are used to seeing it when we look in the mirror or see ourselves in a picture. It’s part of who we are, and some people even use it to show their personality.

So watching it fall out – slowly or quickly – can be a bit disturbing.

And while many of us can expect to lose our hair as we get older due to age or family genetics, it can sometimes happen unexpectedly for a variety of reasons.

How much hair loss is normal?

If you look at the floors in your home, inside your vacuum cleaner or in your favorite brush or comb, chances are you will find plenty of your own hair. And this is normal as every hair on our body has a lifespan before it falls out and a new hair starts to grow from that hair follicle.

“At any given time, about 90% of our hair is in the growth phase and is not at risk of falling out, but about 10% is in the final phase where it will fall out over the next few months,” said Andrew Peterson, MD, a family physician at OSF HealthCare. “This prevents us from losing our hair at once, but makes it very normal for us to shed between 50-150 hairs daily, which is not noticeable in terms of how we look.”

Since people do not keep an actual count of the number of hairs they lose daily, hair loss does not become noticeable until:

  • They realize that they are losing more than they used to.
  • They notice that their hairline is receding or an extension of the part of their hair.
  • If they have long hair and like to pull it back into a ponytail, they notice that it has become smaller.

When to see your doctor

When it comes to hair loss, the most important thing is to monitor the pattern and timing of the loss as well as the health of the skin in the affected areas.

“People should see their primary care physician when they notice hair loss accompanied by skin rashes, visible scarring or other abnormalities,” said Dr. Peterson. “Another concern would be rapid loss of random patches of hair as opposed to the slow loss and pattern typical of male and female baldness.”

Male and female baldness

The most common cause of hair loss in men and women is androgenetic alopecia, which is a genetic condition commonly referred to as male or female pattern baldness.

Typically, this hair loss is not related to any visible skin abnormalities and can affect the front hairline and the top of the head. It tends to spare the sides and back of the head, and it varies greatly in how much it affects different people.

In men, it can result in the easily recognizable M-shaped hairline as well as baldness on the crown and top of the head. In women, it starts at the middle part line and results in thinning or baldness on the top and crown of the head.

Other reasons

“When one diagnoses the cause of hair loss, much of it happens in the evaluation of the scalp and discusses the pattern and timing of the loss with the patient,” said Dr. Peterson. “Sometimes a basic blood test or skin biopsy is required.”

Common causes include:

  • Bacterial, fungal and other inflammatory skin diseases
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormonal conditions, such as thyroid abnormalities and elevated testosterone in women
  • Iron deficiency
  • Physical or emotional stress

“Hair loss due to stress tends to occur two or three months after the onset of stress,” said Dr. Peterson. “We see it classically in women after the birth of a child, but other medical conditions or certain diseases can also be the cause. “If there is no obvious cause, a blood test is likely to be taken to evaluate for a possible undiagnosed condition that could stress the body.”

Depending on the diagnosis, your doctor will provide guidance on possible treatments, which may include topical therapies, prescription therapies, treatment of the underlying problem or sometimes just giving it some time.

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