The experience of losing one’s hair can be emotionally difficult for anyone, even when they happen to be children suffering from hair loss. Children often do not understand what is happening, and other children may subject the child to teasing and bullying as a result of the condition. Hair loss in children is often difficult to diagnose. While the vast majority of hair loss in male adults, for example, is caused by male pattern baldness, or androgenetic alopecia, the causes of children’s hair loss can be much more varied. However, since treatment needs to be specifically tailored to the cause of the hair loss, proper diagnosis is extremely important. Fortunately, while there are a number of possible causes for children’s hair loss, some of the most common are easily remedied.
The most common cause of hair loss in children is tinea capitis, a disease caused by a superficial fungal infection of the skin of the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Also known as ringworm of the scalp, this form of superficial mycosis is becoming increasingly common in the US and other regions of the world. Children with tinea capitis usually have itching associated with hair loss in round or oval patches, with some broken-off hairs visible just above the surface of the scalp. In some cases, gray flakes or scales can be seen. Tinea capitis is treated with anti-fungal medications. Early identification and treatment of tinea capitis can prevent permanent hair loss and scarring on the scalp. Another common cause of hair loss in children is the autoimmune disorder called alopecia areata. This can come on rapidly, resulting in a circle of complete baldness with no itching or scaling.
Children can also suffer from hair loss as a result of direct damage to the hair itself. Wearing the hair for long periods of time in tight hairstyles that pull on the scalp (like pigtails or braids) can cause a type of hair loss called traction alopecia. Moreover, some children damage their own hair as a result of an obsessive-compulsive disorder called trichotillomania, the habit of twirling or plucking the hair. In these cases, the hair loss is patchy, and characterized by broken hairs of varying length. In all of these cases, as long as the hair trauma was not severe or chronic enough to cause scarring, the hair will eventually regrow when the trauma is stopped. In cases where it does not grow back, hair restoration may be an option. It is important to educate parents to avoid tight hairstyles in children in order to prevent hair loss as an adult.
Telogen effluvium is another common cause of hair loss in children. During the normal life cycle of a hair follicle, it goes through several distinct stages, eventually reaching a resting, or telogen stage, where it sheds its hair and lies dormant before starting a new growth cycle. At any given point in time, 10% to 15% of a person’s hair is in the telogen phase. However, in telogen effluvium, some unexpected stress on the body interrupts this cycle, throwing a large number of hair follicles into telogen phase all at once. As a result, hair begins to shed in large amounts. Extremely high fevers, surgery under general anesthesia, severe prolonged emotional stress (such as a death of a loved one), severe injuries and even the use of certain prescription medication can all cause sufficient shock to the body to cause telogen effluvium. Fortunately, since the growth cycle is only interrupted, not stopped, hair usually regrows within six months to a year.
Although much less common, children can also have congenital forms of hair loss as well as hair loss due to vitamin or mineral deficiencies. It is important to have a full evaluation by a physician who specializes in hair loss to accurately diagnose and treat the condition.
If you have questions about hair loss causes and treatments offered by The Griffin Center, please contact our office to schedule a consultation. Be sure to also visit our website and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ .