What does "sudden" really mean when it comes to hair loss? Read more...
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What does "sudden" really mean when it comes to hair loss?
There are three types of hair loss that patients will describe as “sudden”:
Anagen effluvium related to chemotherapy can be considered sudden however it is anticipated and expected so we generally do not see patients panicked about this.
Alopecia areata is truly “sudden” for the simple fact that patients rarely describe a prelude to the hair loss or a specific event that triggered it to occur. Alopecia areata is most often recognized as hair loss in patches or circles. Often patients will comment that there were little to no symptoms that made them aware the loss of hair was about to occur. Many times a distinct bald patch is noted either directly by the patient or by a family member or hairdresser. It can be shocking to patients simply because they had no idea the hair was missing. They often state that they cannot understand where the hair went. In other words, they have no recollection of a clump of hair coming out. In my opinion, this type of episode carries the true designation of “sudden hair loss.”
Telogen effluvium is a type of stress-induced hair loss. Rapid shedding starts to occur after a window of about 3-6 months after a stressful event- physical, mental, or emotional. Although this can feel rather sudden in that there is a rapid increase in shedding, the reality is that there is a bit of a process the hair is cycling through and shedding is closer to the midpoint. In other words, the stressful event triggers a change in the cycle pattern of hair growth, many hair enter the resting phase early and then re-enter the growth phase. The old hair is retained in the follicle until the new hair from the new growth phase physically pushes the old hair out of the follicle to make way for new growth. Technically the shedding or hair loss is the recovery phase in that it occurs as a result of new hair growth triggering the shedding. As the hair lengthens, the shedding slows and regrowth is noted.
How do you spot the difference between sudden hair loss and other types of hair loss that aren't so "sudden"?
Even though alopecia areata and telogen effluvium provide slight variations on the concept of sudden hair loss, they can often be distinguished from other types of hair loss based on symptoms and speed. Inflammatory triggers for hair loss are associated with itching, redness, and sensitivities of the scalp. Due to the prodrome of symptoms, many people are apt to seek out medical care or recognize that therapeutic intervention may be needed. For genetic and hormonal patterns of hair loss, there is a slow gradual thinning of the hair that often begins and a quality change in the hair shaft in terms of becoming finer, frizzier, and more peach-fuzz-like followed by shedding. This process is relatively slow in that it may only be noted once a particular volume of loss is reached to make it more noticeable.
If someone experiences sudden hair loss, what can they do about it?
If you experience sudden hair loss, please contact your dermatologist. Accurate diagnosis is key to avoiding excess or inappropriate therapeutic intervention. Often the stress of hair loss can lead to more hair loss. Learning more through discussion with your dermatologist will less your fears and help strategize effective options for regrowth!