Parents have been asking me some hair-raising questions about what to do when their children experience excessive hair loss. Well, let me see if I can comb out some information on this topic.
What is typical and what is not
Believe it or not, we all lose about 50 to 100 hairs a day through excessive combing, tight braiding or tight barrettes. Even drying hair with high heat causes a normal type of hair loss, with those hairs growing back over time. If your child is losing more than that, or if your child or teen is developing areas of almost or total complete hair loss, we call that condition alopecia and need to figure out the cause.
Infants may lose some hair and create a bald spot by rubbing their scalp against the mattress, but as they start to move more and sit up, the hair loss will correct itself.
While it is common for children and adults getting chemotherapy for cancer to experience severe hair loss, it can also occur due to other conditions. For example, if your teen has a problem with their thyroid gland in their neck needed to regulate their daily activity, that could result in hair loss. Some medications, even ones that treat acne, or the improper use of steroids, may have hair loss as a side effect.
It may also occur following an illness from a germ like a virus or a fungus. It can also result from a teenager not eating right, such as teens with anorexia who may experience a lack of iron, zinc, niacin, or biotin among other nutrients, all of which can result in hair loss. It may also be due to a psychological problem like anxiety or stress that results in an extreme habit of hair pulling.
Why is your child losing their hair?
My best advice is to discuss with your child’s health care professional. They can examine your child’s scalp, perhaps take some hair samples, and help you determine what the cause is and how to treat it.
Most importantly, should this condition occur, parents and friends need to be supportive and remember that a person is much more than just his or her hair. Focus on your child strengths and look for opportunities to boost your child’s self-esteem while dealing with the hair loss. If your child is very self-conscious, consider having them wear hats or wigs until the hair grows back.
With proper treatment and/or simply over a period of weeks or months, in most cases the condition is temporary and resolves. Of course, if you are an adult like me the hair loss just seems to get worse the older you get.
Hopefully, with tips like these, you’ll find that any concerns you have about alopecia will be hair today and gone tomorrow.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5.