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Losing hair

alopecia; hair; ringworm; tinea; cancer; hormones; fungal; infection; chemotherapy;

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What is hair loss?

hair and no hairEveryone loses 50 to 100 hairs from their scalp every day. You may see it in your brush or comb, in the shower or the bath, or even on your clothes.

  • Hairs grow deep in your skin in a small tube called the hair follicle (fol-ik-ul).
  • The bottom of the hair is called the bulb of the hair.
  • There are cells in the bulb of the hair that make keratin (ke-ra-tin) which is what hairs are made of.
  • There are no living cells in the part of the hair that shows above the surface of the skin (we say that the hair that shows is dead).

All hairs eventually fall out because the cells in the bulb of the hair stop making new keratin and they die.

  • It is not known why these cells die, but soon after they die new cells grow again in the same place, making a new hair.
  • Because there is a gap between the old hair and the new hair, the old hair will, after a few weeks, fall out.
  • thinning hairSometimes hairs are quite long before the cells in the bulb of the hair die (such as on our head), and sometimes they are short (such as the hairs in our eyebrows).

Sometimes the hair does not start growing again.

  • If only a few hairs don't start growing again we do not notice it, but sometimes a lot of hairs do not start growing again.
  • This can lead to 'thin hair' (where there are fewer hairs growing all over the scalp, or areas where there are no hairs (called bald spots).

Causes of hair loss

There are many causes of hair loss - not all of them for ever.

Many men start losing hair from the front or top of their scalp.

  • a balding manThe edge of this bald spot slowly gets bigger, and the man gets more and more bald.
  • This is the most common type of baldness, and it is called male pattern baldness.
  • The tendency to develop this type of baldness is inherited (if other men in his family have become bald, then a man is more likely to become bald too).
  • Once these hairs have fallen out, the hair bulbs do not start making another hair – and this type of baldness lasts for the rest of the man's life.
  • Some men only become bald at the front or top of their head, but some lose all of their head hair.
  • There are some treatments which might make a difference but few bald men ever develop hairs in their bald area again.

A few women get bald at the front of their hair while more get thinner hair on the top of their heads.

If a person becomes really ill, or their body is stressed a lot many of their hair follicles may stop growing new hairs all at once – and a lot of hair can fall out at the same time (usually several weeks after the illness or stress).

Having a baby is an example of a big stress on a woman's body and often new mothers lose some hair after the birth of their baby

  • Most of their hair does not stop growing – so generally their hair becomes thinner for a while but they do not become totally bald and their hair eventually gets back to normal.

A fungal infection called tinea or 'ringworm' can cause people of any age to lose hair in the area that is infected, especially kids as they are more likely to get it.

  • The fungus causes the hair to break (the hair is still growing but it breaks at the surface of the skin).
  • This can lead to a round scaly bald spot which can be anywhere on the scalp.
  • When the fungus is treated the hairs grow longer again.
  • Look at our topic on Fungal infections if you want to know more about it.

Other reasons for hair loss

  • If the thyroid (th-eye-royd) gland isn't working properly to produce hormones that help keep you healthy then there could be hair loss.
  • When people do not have enough to eat (they are starving) hairs can grow more slowly or fall out more.
  • Kids who pull or twist their own hair, like twirling it round a finger or plaiting it so tightly that the hair is pulled from the head, can have some bald patches. Be careful not to pull too hard or brush too hard at wet hair trying to get knots out! Try using a wide toothed comb.
  • Bleaching hair or perming hair can also damage it and cause hairs to break.
  • Cancer treatment can cause hair to fall out. It isn't the disease that causes this. It is the chemicals or x-rays used to kill cancer cells which also kill normal body cells. But after treatment is over the hair will gradually grow back again.
    chemotherapy treatment can cause baldness
  • Alopecia areata (a-low-pee-sha a-ree-ah-ta) is a rare disease of the hair root. The body's immune system makes a mistake and attacks the root of the hair making it shrivel up and stop making new hair.

What you can do for yourself

  • If you notice that you have a bald spot then get mum, dad or whoever cares for you to check your head in case you have ringworm. If they are not sure what to look for then a visit to your doctor would be helpful.
  • If you have had your hair bleached or dyed and your hair is falling out, then maybe many hairs were damaged and broken. The hairs will grow back but it can be a long time before your hair looks as thick as it usually does. Check with a good hairdresser before you use hair colours again.
    dying or bleaching can cause hair to fall out
  • If you are losing a lot of hair, and you pull your hair back tightly in a pony tail or plait, make sure that you don't pull it back so tightly.
  • Use conditioner before you comb wet hair, especially if your hair is long and fine and likes to tie itself in knots.

some people may have bald spotsSome people pull at a patch of their hair a lot. This might be a habit, or maybe they are really stressed. This can cause a bald spot. Finding other ways of managing stress might be helpful, but this can be a habit that is hard to stop.

 

 

If your father is going bald

  • Men can be very sensitive about going bald – make sure that you do not tease him about it.

What you can do for a friend

support your friendIf you have a friend who has lost hair then you can help her feel better by:

  • Supporting your friend.
  • Sticking up for her if others are unkind.
  • Starting a fashion for wearing bandannas, headscarves or hats so that your friend doesn't look different all the time.
  • Not teasing or drawing attention to the hair loss.

If your friend or a family member has cancer, then check out www.canteen.org.au to find out more and to see how you can help.

Dr Kim says

Dr KimLooking different in any way can be hard on kids. Think about how you would feel if you lost most or all of your hair. How would you like people to treat you then?

If you know someone who has alopecia then try to remember that a person is the same with or without hair.

ways to cover baldness

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.

 

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