Although hair loss in children is a relatively uncommon phenomenon, it does account for an estimated 3% of all pediatric office visits in the United States. A great deal of this hair loss, or alopecia, stems not from medical conditions, but from simple habits that can usually be easily remedied. For example, tightly binding hair styles, like elaborate braids or pigtails, can place stress on developing hair shafts and follicles. Over time, this stress can result in a condition called traction alopecia, where the hair comes out by the roots, leaving behind areas of obvious thinning, usually along the front and sides of the scalp. Traction alopecia is most often seen after the hair has been twisted into tight braids for months at a time. While it can affect women and men of all ages, children are particularly susceptible.
Similar patchy hair loss can also be the result of a psychological condition known as Trichotillomania. Children suffering from this condition habitually pull, pluck, twist, or rub their hair, causing uneven patchy hair loss characterized by broken hairs of varying length, with patches most prevalent on the side of the child’s dominant hand. Trichotillomania is believed to be triggered by an emotional stressor or excessive anxiety. While scolding or punishment generally does little to curtail the compulsion, counseling to help the child deal with the source of their stress or anxiety may help stop it.
The most common cause of children’s hair loss, however, is a persistent condition known as tinea capitis. Although it is also known as ringworm of the scalp, this superficial fungal infection of the skin can also affect the eyebrows and eyelashes. Tinea capitis usually causes severe itching along with hair loss in round or oval patches. Broken-off hairs are generally visible as dark colored dots just above the surface of the scalp and, in some cases, gray flakes or scales can be seen on the skin itself.
The fungi that cause tinea capitis grow well in warm, moist areas and are more likely to occur in patients that have minor skin or scalp injuries, do not bathe or wash their hair often, or who have wet skin for prolonged periods of time. Tinea capitis can spread easily, usually through direct contact with an infected area on someone else’s body, by sharing combs, hats, or clothing that have been used by someone with the condition, or even by pets, particularly cats. While it can occur at any age, it most often affects small children and remains one of the most common causes of hair loss in children worldwide.
Tinea capitis is most commonly treated with anti-fungal medications. Early identification and treatment can prevent permanent hair loss that can result from scarring on the scalp. While it may be difficult to get rid of tinea capitis, and the problem may come back even after it has been treated, in many cases it gets better on its own after puberty.
If you have questions about caring for your children’s hair or any of the treatments we offer, please contact The Griffin Center to schedule a consultation. Be sure to also visit our website and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ .