Dr. Doireann OLeary on hair loss: How much is too much to lose?

Has anyone else noticed lately that people around you or maybe even you are losing a lot of hair? I’ve had so many friends in the last few months notice clumps of hair coming out in the shower, or that their hairbrush comes away full of hair after brushing. It can be a little frightening to hear about, and we wonder when is it something to worry about, and when is it just normal shedding?

It's a perfectly normal thing to lose hair. Humans can lose between 50 and 100 hairs a day, and not even notice it. But when it starts to become a noticeable problem, like when there’s are patches of your scalp peeping through your hair, that’s when it might be time to seek further help.

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Though for most people, hair loss isn’t anything to be worried about, big or unusual amounts of hair loss can sometimes indicate there might be something going on medically with your bodyHowever, according to Doireann O’Leary, the Cork GP who gives advice on health and wellbeing, there are loads of reasons we could be losing hair. She shared some of them in a post, detailing the causes and what happens to our bodies when they’re effected by them:

‘Female pattern hair loss/thinning. It’s more likely to occur after menopause but can occur in younger women too. It’s often referred to an “androgenetic hair loss” as it’s thought to be due to a combination of genetics and hormones.

‘Telogen Effluvium is hair shedding/thinning after a physical or psychological trauma. It occurs 2-3 months after the stressful event. Some triggers include: Pregnancy, Weight Loss, Fever, Surgery and Psychological stress. It can also occur after stopping the oral contraceptive pill.

‘Skin/Scalp conditions like Psoriasis, Eczema or Tinea Capitis (fungal infection) may also result in hair loss.

‘Medications that can cause it include chemotherapeutic agents, the oral contraceptive pill & anti-inflammatories. Medical conditions like anaemia (low iron) & underactive thyroid may also be the cause.

‘Traction Alopecia is caused by excessive tension on the hair eg; tight hair styles or extensions. Chemicals/over processing hair can also result in hair loss.’

If you are throwing your hair up in a bun everyday, you may not realise the damage you're doing.A scraped back bun or ponytail everyday will leave your hair feeling the strain. If the root is pulled all day, and worse, pulled all night if you wear your hair up in bed, it will weaken the root and cause hair to fall out more easily. Put your hair into a more relaxed style, use soft scrunchies or hair ties that don’t yank the hair and avoid styles like braids or tightly pulled back looks.

‘Trichotillomania is a psychological condition in which the patient pulls hair out due to stress/anxiety. Autoimmune conditions like Lupus and Alopecia Areata may result in a bald patches. Alopecia totalis when all hair on the scalp is lost.'

If you are seriously concerned about your hair loss it may be helpful to speak to a GP to see if any tests need to be run in order to get a clearer picture of what may be happening. You should do this before thinking about going to a commercial hair clinic as these can be costly. Doireann talks treatments and possible diet causes:

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‘Treatment depends on the cause but prescription options available are: topical Minoxidil or Dithranol, oral Minoxidil, Steroids (topical, injections in to the effected area or tablets). Finasteride & Spironolactone are also medicines used to treat hair loss. Laser may also be an option.

‘Treating iron deficiency or underactive thyroid may be the solution or stopping offending medications may also be the trick.

‘Supplements: Biotin can help BUT it can interfere with blood test results in the lab; it helped my hair but gave me horrible acne so I’ve stopped. Iron is important if your levels are low. Zinc, Vit D & omegas may also help. Prevention measures include avoiding over processing hair and eating a healthy balanced diet.’

If you look after your hair, aren’t ill and can find no other reason as to why your hair is falling out, try to look into your diet. The cause may lie in a deficiency in key nutrients that nurture hair growth and hold. Lack of vitamins A, B or C as well as minerals like iron and nutrients like protein mean that hair doesn’t have the input it needs to stay healthy

See a GP if:

you have sudden hair loss

you develop bald patches

you're losing hair in clumps

your head also itches and burns

you're worried about your hair loss

woman standing next to pink wall while scratching her head