Telogen Effluvium - Short Term Temporary Hair Loss
Telogen effluvium – if it wasn't a potentially distressing condition, these two words would almost have a soothing sound to them. One can imagine telogen effluvium being all kinds of interesting things, but in fact it is an increase in the rate at which we shed our dead hair. Most often it is temporary and caused by increased stress in some shape or form to our bodies. And in nearly all cases the condition is temporary and rights itself. As a “follicly challenged” male I have an interest in what makes our hair fall out. Here's what I've learnt about this usually harmless, but often upsetting, condition.
To understand a bit more about telogen effluvium we have to understand the mechanism by which hair grows on our scalps. It is produced in little pouches or pockets in the skin called hair follicles. The normal life of a hair is around three years during which time it is growing constantly at around about one centimetre (approx 3/8 in) each month which is why we need regular haircuts. But after about three years the individual hair comes to the end of its life cycle and falls out so we find occasional hairs on our shoulders, in our combs and in the bathtub. After the hair has been shed the hair follicle rests for a time and then the cycle restarts, with the follicle producing a new hair which starts to grow. There are about 1% of hairs on our head at any one time which have reached the end of their life cycle and are about to fall out, but as all the hairs on our head are at different stages in the cycle it is a continuous process.
Telogen Effluvium - Characteristics
Telogen effluvium is characterised by a general thinning of the hair as many more hairs than usual come to the end of the cycle and fall out. As this happens all over the head there are no bald patches in specific areas – it is widespread across the scalp. Because the rest of the hair is growing as usual and healthy it looks just the same as usual, which some people find surprising when more hair than usual is falling out.
Most usually telogen effluvium happens up to three months after some major shock or stress to the body which upsets the body chemistry that directly affects the hair's life cycle. The single most common cause is childbirth with many women experiencing increased hair loss up to three months after the baby is born. But major operations, accidents and illness can also lead to the onset of telogen effluvium as the body reacts to the shock, however it is caused. What tends to happen is that older hairs reach the end of their life before the full three years and within a month or two of their growth stopping they fall out. This means that many more hairs than usual are lost which causes the general thinning that is characteristic of telogen effluvium. A little while later, after the follicle has rested, the growth of new hair starts and within a short while the scalp will be covered with a thicker, more normal covering of hair.
In most cases, telogen effluvium results in temporary hair loss, as outlined but sometimes there can be an underlying reason for the condition developing. Ongoing, excessive shedding of hair can be related to iron deficiency or an underactive thyroid gland, so tests for these conditions are carried out to try to work out what the problem could be. A few drugs are also thought to cause temporary hair loss so it is worth reviewing any medication being taken to see if that could be the cause of the condition.
As I said at the outset, my interest comes from being a man with a lot less hair than I used to have, but to the best of my knowledge I've never suffered from telogen effluvium. I'm not medically qualified in any way, nor am I offering advice, simply sharing what I've learnt. If you need advice then it is important to consult a suitably qualified practitioner.