While many adults expect to lose hair as they age, hair loss in children can be alarming. While it’s not uncommon, it’s important to understand what is causing your child’s hair to fall out.
The following types of hair loss are normal and reversible:
- Newborns: As time passes after childbirth, newborns may lose hair that’s replaced with new, permanent hair.
- Friction: Babies at 3-6 months of age often rub their bodies, including their heads, against their crib mattresses or car seats. The friction can cause them to lose hair. Once they begin to sit upright, their hair will grow back. Similarly, hair loss can occur because of vigorous brushing of hair, brushing hair when wet, and tying braids too tight.
- Pulling: When your child’s hair is handled roughly or pulled tightly into ponytails, this can cause their hair to fall out.
What diseases can cause hair loss in children?
Shedding a few strands of hair (even up to 100 strands a day) is normal in children. However, abnormal or excessive loss of hair may point to some underlying condition. Disorders that can cause your child’s hair to fall out include the following:
Tinea capitis, also known as scalp ringworm, is the most common cause of hair loss in children. The condition is contagious and features oval or round scaly patches on the scalp with a central clear portion and ring-like border. Hair appears broken at the surface and looks like black dots. The condition can also affect eyelashes and eyebrows.
Doctors can easily diagnose the condition by looking at your child’s scalp under a microscope. Treatment involves using antifungal pills (griseofulvin) for 8 weeks. Your child should also use antifungal shampoos that contain either selenium sulfide or ketoconazole.
Alopecia areata is characterized by the sudden appearance of oval or round patches of hair loss on the scalp. The condition is believed to be an autoimmune disorder, which means the child’s immune system mistakenly attacks their hair follicles. Doctors diagnose this condition by looking at the typical appearance of patches on the scalp. While there is no cure for the disease, treatments can slow down its progression.
Alopecia areata can also cause a child to become bald over time. Treatments such as steroid creams and injections and minoxidil lotion can bring hair back, but many lose their hair again. In severe cases, the condition results in total hair loss from the body (known as alopecia totalis).
Telogen effluvium is hair loss caused by factors that may include the following:
- Severe emotional stress
- Loss of a loved one
- Vitamin A overdose
- Side effect of medications
Any of the above factors can disturb the normal growth pattern of your child’s hair. As a result, instead of only 10%-15%, more than 50% of your child’s hair stays in the resting phase (telogen). After 6-16 weeks, the hair starts falling out. This may cause your child to turn partially or completely bald.
There is no treatment for telogen effluvium. Doctors diagnose the condition by looking at your child’s scalp and taking their medical history. Your child will most likely regain their lost hair in 6 months to one year.
Trichotillomania is a mental condition that causes a child to pull or twist their hair, ultimately damaging the hair and resulting in hair loss. The condition is most often triggered by a stressful event such as a parent’s divorce, the birth of a new sibling, or issues at school.
Trichotillomaniais causes patchy hair loss and broken hair strands. It is most often seen on the side of the dominant hand. If your child has trichotillomania, they will need counseling sessions with a child psychologist to address their urge to damage their hair.
Less common causes of hair loss in children include:
- Nutritional deficiency (biotin, zinc, iron, calcium, and vitamin D)
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Product allergies (harsh shampoos, hair gels, and hair creams)
- Hair treatments in teenagers gone wrong (excessive heat treatment while blow-drying, hair straightening or rebonding, and hair bleaching)
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