Hair loss can be a distressing experience, and one common type is telogen effluvium. This condition is often triggered by severe stress or significant changes to the body. The outcome is thinning hair, usually concentrated around the crown of the head. While the good news is that hair typically regrows within three to six months without treatment, it’s important to understand the causes, symptoms, and potential treatments for this type of hair loss.
Exploring Telogen Effluvium
Telogen effluvium is a temporary hair loss condition that emerges as a response to a particular stressor or change affecting the body. To comprehend its impact, let’s delve into the three stages of hair growth and shedding:
- Anagen (Growth): The active phase where hair grows actively from the follicles. Around 80-90% of your hair follicles are in this stage at any given time.
- Catagen (Resting): A transitional stage where hair growth stops. Approximately 5% of hairs are in this phase.
- Telogen (Shedding): The resting stage where hair is inactive, and a white bulb (club hair) forms at the root. Another 5% of hairs are in this stage.
How Telogen Effluvium Occurs
Telogen effluvium doesn’t discriminate; it can be triggered by a myriad of factors. As you navigate the landscape of potential triggers, keep in mind the complexity of your body’s responses. Here’s a comprehensive list of triggers that can set telogen effluvium into motion:
- High Fever: A spike in body temperature due to illness can signal the onset of telogen effluvium. The body’s response to fever can send hair follicles prematurely into the shedding phase.
- Childbirth: The miracle of bringing life into the world can also be a trigger for telogen effluvium. The hormonal shifts that accompany pregnancy and childbirth can impact the hair growth cycle.
- Severe Infections: The body’s battle against infections can divert resources away from hair growth, causing an imbalance in the hair follicle cycle.
- Psychological Stress: The weight of emotional stress can reverberate through your body, affecting various systems, including hair growth. Significant emotional stressors can lead to hair thinning and shedding.
- Major Surgery: The stress induced by major surgical procedures can trigger telogen effluvium. The body’s focus on healing can disrupt the natural course of the hair growth cycle.
- Thyroid Disorders: Hormonal imbalances, particularly those associated with thyroid disorders like hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, can contribute to the development of telogen effluvium.
- Hormonal Changes: Sudden hormonal fluctuations, whether due to menopause, postpartum shifts, or other factors, can disrupt the equilibrium of the hair growth cycle.
- Discontinuing Birth Control Pills: The cessation of hormonal birth control can lead to abrupt changes in the body’s hormonal balance, impacting the hair follicles.
- Certain Medications: Specific medications, including retinoids, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, certain depression medicines, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can act as catalysts for telogen effluvium.
- Abrupt Dietary Changes: Rapid shifts in diet, especially those that lack sufficient protein or result in nutritional deficiencies, can trigger hair shedding.
Gender and Age Influence
While telogen effluvium can affect anyone, individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB) between the ages of 30 and 60 are more likely to experience chronic telogen effluvium without a clear cause. This phenomenon is characterized by hair thinning across the scalp, which usually doesn’t result in total baldness.
Impact on the Body
Telogen effluvium leads to hairs transitioning from the active growth stage to the resting phase earlier than expected. On a daily basis, healthy individuals shed around 100 hairs. However, those with telogen effluvium might shed up to 300 hairs per day. Although this condition doesn’t pose physical health risks, its emotional and psychological impact can’t be ignored. Feelings of stress, anxiety, and even depression might arise as a result.
Recognizing Symptoms and Triggers
- Increased Hair Loss: A noticeable uptick in the strands that accumulate in your hairbrush, linger on your pillow, or gather in the shower drain can be an early sign of telogen effluvium. What was once a minor daily occurrence might turn into a more pronounced phenomenon, drawing attention to the evolving state of your hair health.
- Thinning Hair: As telogen effluvium takes hold, it often impacts the density of your hair. Thinning, especially on the crown of your head, becomes evident. The mirror might reflect a gradual transformation, prompting a heightened awareness of your changing appearance.
- Dry and Easily-Falling Hair: Your hair might adopt a new texture, becoming drier and more prone to falling out. The ease with which strands detach from your scalp can be disconcerting, underscoring the shifts occurring within your hair follicles.
Diagnosis and Management
Diagnosing telogen effluvium is often straightforward and involves a physical examination and a “pull test.” This test helps healthcare providers determine the number of hairs in the telogen phase. While the condition usually resolves on its own within six to eight months once the stressor is addressed, treatments might include over-the-counter medications, multivitamins, supplements, styling techniques, and even low-level light therapy.
Low-Level Light Therapy (LLLT) as an Option
Recent studies have highlighted the effectiveness of low-level light therapy in treating telogen effluvium. This non-invasive procedure involves exposing the scalp to low-level red or near-infrared light, which is believed to stimulate hair follicles and promote hair growth. LLLT devices can be used at home and have shown promising results in enhancing hair density and thickness.
Promoting Hair Health and Growth
To reduce the risk of developing telogen effluvium, consider eating a protein-rich diet, taking essential vitamins, managing stress, getting adequate sleep, avoiding extreme diets, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
The outlook for telogen effluvium is optimistic. Although hair loss can be distressing, rest assured that hair usually regrows within three to six months once the underlying stressor is addressed. If you suspect telogen effluvium, consult a healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms and potential steps for promoting new hair growth.
Distinguishing Telogen Effluvium from Androgenic Alopecia
Telogen effluvium involves the rapid shedding of hair over a short period, often following a stressor. It’s generally temporary and reversible. In contrast, androgenic alopecia (male and female pattern baldness) is a gradual, permanent hair loss condition.
Telogen effluvium might be unsettling, but understanding its causes, symptoms, and management strategies can empower you to take control. Remember that your hair will likely regrow in time, and seeking