Hair fall in itself is a transitional phase of hair growth which every individual has to go through at various ages. However, if the phenomenon become excessive and hair thinning become as apparent as baldness then it is certainly a red flag signal. On an average, an adult scalp has anywhere between 1,00,000 to 1,50,000 hair and 90% of them remain in a growth stage. Also, close to a 100 hair strands fall off almost every day. This happens due to varied stages of hair follicles which are –
- Anagen: A hair follicle remains in active growth stage for 2 to 6 years
- Catagen: A hair follicle experiences a transitional hair growth for 2 to 3 weeks
- Telogen: This resting phase precedes the hair fall stage, wherein a hair rests within the hair follicle for 2 to 3 months and then is shed to start new hair growth cycle in the same follicle
So while hair fall can be a normal hair growth phenomenon, hair thinning is certainly not. If thousands of hair follicles enter the Telogen phase together, then hair growth becomes arrested. As several resting phase hair start falling off and the follicles don’t enter a new growth cycle, hair thinning can begin. There can be several causes of hair thinning, which could keep new hair from growing out while old one keep maturing and falling off.
Causes of hair thinning
As the hair follicles on the scalp become unable to produce new hair, a person can experience gradual to sudden hair thinning. Hair thinning could be triggered by several internal and external factors. Knowing the causal factors of hair thinning allows trichologists and dermatologists to effectively devise a treatment which can stop and reverse hair thinning. Commonly observed causes are –
- Genetic predisposition: Certain people have a family history of baldness and they are genetically predisposed to have thin hair or develop pattern baldness at early stages of their lives.
- Hormonal changes: Androgens or male hormones are produced in both men and women. Excessive production of these androgens can be the cause of excessive hair fall, hair thinning and even baldness.
- Stress and depression: Psychological disorders, intense emotional stress and anxiety can also have hair thinning as a side effect.
- Infections: Ringworm infection on the scalp can also cause hair loss and thinning.
- Pregnancy and childbirth: This is a temporary phase during which pregnant and nursing women can experience hair thinning due to extreme hormonal and physiological changes.
- Drugs and medications: Chemotherapy medication for cancer treatment, beta blockers, blood thinners and certain birth control drugs can also have an adverse side effect leading to hair loss and hair thinning.
- Auto-immune disease: Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition wherein the body’s own immune system starts attacking its own hair follicles. This type of hair thinning and hair fall can also be reversed with treatment.
- Chronic medical conditions: Hyper and hypo thyroid condition, Lupus disease, diabetes, anaemia, Lichen planus or follicular disorders can also cause hair thinning. In most of these conditions the hair loss is temporary and hair growth can be restored by treatment of underlying medical conditions.
- Dietary deficiencies: A diet lacking in vitamins, minerals like iron or a low calorie and low in protein diet can be cause of hair fall and hair thinning. As hair are primarily made of keratin protein, a diet deficient in protein can lead to reduced hair growth and replacement of shed hair will also be slow.
Treatments for thinning hair
Hair thinning can be effectively treated by diagnosing and reversing the cause of hair thinning. Therefore, there are several alternatives of surgical and non-surgical hair treatment available in the market. These are –
- Application of topical drugs like Minoxidil (Rogaine) and steroids based topical creams on the scalp can restore hair growth and arrest hair thinning.
- Ingestion of oral medication like Finasteride (Propecia), which is a drug prescribed to only men is also a non-surgical method prescribed to reduce hair thinning.
- Dietary supplements like iron, multi-vitamins and protein supplements can correct hair thinning caused by dietary deficiencies.
- Treatment of hormonal imbalance can also stop thinning of hair. Medicines for hyperthyroidism and balancing androgen levels in the body can effectively reduce hair fall and initiate new hair growth.
- Immunotherapy is adopted in case of alopecia to induce an allergic reaction in the scalp and prevent body’s own immune system to attack hair follicles.
- Psychotherapy is used to treat patients suffering from acute emotional stress, trauma, anxiety and depression. And their psychological symptoms improve, their hair growth is also restored.
- Surgical hair transplant is an extreme treatment measure in cases where hair thinning has led to balding. Also in case of scar tissue of lesion formation on the scalp, despite the treatment of diseases like Lupus, hair growth can’t be restored. In such cases, transplant of hair plugs is the only way that can reverse hair thinning and promote growth of new hair.
- Stem cell transplant and PRP are other progressive nonsurgical treatments which are used if hair thinning leads to hair fall.