THOUGH we all lose hair everyday, it can be a little worrisome when you are not replacing strands as quickly as you are losing them, especially if you don't know what's causing it.
Hair loss occurs in both men and women and can affect the hair on any part of your body. Because age is perhaps the most well-known culprit behind hair loss, younger people are understandably puzzled when they realise they are shedding their mane.
Internist Dr Samantha Nicholson-Spence says hair loss is one of those “non-specific symptoms” because it can be triggered by a wide range of illnesses, medications, and changes in the body. She tells us some of the sneaky causes that might be causing you to lose your hair.
Dr Nicholson-Spence says autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other types of arthritis can cause hair loss. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system, which is tasked with fighting off harmful antibodies, mistakenly attacks the body. “With lupus, for example, someone may develop scarring alopecia,” she says.
“Kidney failure, liver failure, and many other illnesses can cause a disorder called telogen effluvium, where the hair takes on a very fine texture similar to that of baby hair, and becomes more susceptible to falling out,” Dr Nicholson-Spence says. Telogen effluvium can also be triggered by stress, depression, and even childbirth. Once the condition is resolved, however, hair growth will return to normal.
The internist says hormones play a big part in the way hair grows in men and women, and when there are imbalances it may cause hair loss, or excess hair growth in some places.
“Male pattern hair loss in women may occur, especially if there is excess testosterone on board,” she says. “This could occur if you have an ovarian tumour that is producing male hormones, or if you are taking medication that may suppress your female hormones.”
These women might notice their hairlines receding but that more hair is growing on places like the chest, chin and legs.
Unlike other types of alopecia, which are symptoms of other illnesses, alopecia areata is a disease in itself that is characterised by hair loss in patches. This occurs when the immune system attacks the hair follicles, and may result in complete hair loss, called alopecia universalis.
Hair products and styles
Dr Nicholson-Spence notes that two of the most common causes of hair loss, especially in women, are non-medical, harsh hair products and rigid hairstyles.
“Chemicals in products like relaxers, texturisers and hair bleaching products can damage hair follicles and strands and lead to hair loss,” she says. “And some hairstyles, like tight braids, ponytails and cornrows may place too much tension on the hair and scalp. This may also lead to hair loss.”