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Hair Loss: Causes, Types, and Treatment

May 23, 2024 • read

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Hair Loss: Causes, Types, and Treatment

Millions of people struggle with hair loss, a condition that can deeply affect one’s self-esteem and emotional health. Commonly caused by genetics, medical issues, or environmental factors, hair loss isn’t just a cosmetic concern; it can impact social interactions and personal identity.

In this blog, we’ll explore the causes of hair loss, types of hair loss, and what to look for when seeking professional dermatological help. Understanding when to consult a dermatologist for hair loss is vital, and our articles will outline what to expect from these consultations.

What causes hair loss?

Hair loss can result from numerous factors:

  • Genetics: The most common cause, especially in cases of male or female pattern baldness, is hereditary.
  • Hormonal changes: Conditions like pregnancy, thyroid disorders, and menopause can trigger hair loss.
  • Medical conditions: Scalp infections, diseases like lupus, and trichotillomania (a hair-pulling disorder) are known contributors.
  • Medications and supplements: Hair loss can be a side effect of drugs used for cancer, arthritis, depression, heart problems, and high blood pressure. It can be dangerous to suddenly stop some medications, so it’s important to speak to the prescribing provider before stopping any medications. 
  • Stressful events: Major stress, both physical and emotional, can lead to temporary hair loss.

Types of hair loss

Hair loss can follow certain patterns depending on the condition you’re experiencing. 

Male pattern baldness: Male pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia, is the most common type of hair loss in men but can affect females too. It typically follows a pattern of receding hairline and hair thinning on the crown and is caused by genetic and hormonal factors. The hair loss is associated with the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which causes hair follicles to shrink and eventually cease producing hair.

Female pattern baldness: Female pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia in women, is characterized by hair thinning predominantly over the top and crown of the scalp. Unlike men, the frontal hairline might not necessarily recede. This condition is influenced by hormones and genetic predisposition.

Alopecia areata: Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that usually results in unpredictable, patchy hair loss. In alopecia areata, the body’s immune system attacks healthy hair follicles, causing them to become smaller and drastically slow down production, leading to sudden hair loss.

Telogen effluvium: Telogen effluvium is a form of temporary hair loss that usually happens after stress, a pregnancy, shock, or a traumatic event. It typically involves an abrupt onset of hair shedding usually seen several months after a triggering event. It occurs when more hairs than normal enter the shedding (telogen) phase of the hair growth lifecycle. Hair typically grows back after several months once the stressful trigger is removed.

Alopecia Universalis: Alopecia Universalis is characterized by the complete loss of hair on the scalp and body. It is an advanced but rare form of alopecia areata, which involves a total loss of body hair, including eyebrows, eyelashes, and pubic hair. This condition is also believed to be an autoimmune disorder.

When to see a dermatologist

Identifying hair loss early is crucial for effective treatment. Signs that warrant a visit to a dermatologist include:

  • Sudden loss of large amounts of hair.
  • Patchy hair loss.
  • Scalp pain, itching, or scaling.

During a visit, dermatologists will more likely do the “hair pull” test for anyone presenting with hair loss; pulling out more than 6 hairs can indicate an active hair loss condition like alopecia areata for example. .

During a dermatologist visit for hair loss, expect a physical exam, discussion of medical history, and possibly a scalp biopsy. Understanding what to expect can ease anxiety and prepare you for the consultation. Virtual visits on Maple will have you sending files or images to a dermatologist on our platform, who will assess your needs and determine if virtual care is appropriate. 

How dermatologists can help with hair loss

While dermatologists are skin experts, their expertise also extends to hair issues. If you’re looking to regrow lost hair, or simply trying to slow your rate of hair loss, a dermatologist can provide a few different treatment options.

Hair loss treatment options include topicals, injectables, and oral treatments in addition to surgical procedures like hair transplants. Generally, the first line of defence often involves prescription hair loss medication like finasteride. This medication decreases dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in your body, which can increase hair growth and slow hair loss.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatments are another alternative. This involves drawing blood from your arm to isolate growth factor-releasing blood cells called platelets that encourage the growth of existing hair. Once this is complete, your dermatologist numbs the thinning spots on your scalp and injects the concentration with fine needles to stimulate hair growth.

Intralesional corticosteroid injections into the scalp may also stimulate hair growth — though they’re most useful for patchy, stable hair loss. 

Thinning hair and baldness aren’t the only hair-related concerns a dermatologist can address. Your dermatologist can also help you develop a plan for seasonal hair loss since it’s common for hair to shed when the temperatures change. This may focus on clinical interventions and include diet changes and adjustments to your hair styling routine.

In fact, combining your dermatologist’s clinical knowledge with some simple hair and skin tips can help you adapt your skin and hair care routine to the coldest season, helping to prevent common winter skin issues.

Connecting with a dermatologist

Primary care providers may refer to dermatologists if they are unsure about diagnoses or if more specialized treatments and maintenance are required. 

Getting an appointment with a dermatologist in person can take a while. Appointments require a referral from your healthcare provider, and if you’re among the one in five Canadians without a family doctor, this could result in long wait times at the walk-in clinic. On top of that, getting a referral doesn’t guarantee a timely appointment. The average wait time to see a dermatologist for a non-urgent skin concern in Canada is between 6 to 18 months, depending on where you live and what your reason for the referral is.

With Maple, Canada’s leading virtual care platform, you can get a diagnosis and personalized treatment plan from a Canadian-licensed dermatologist without a referral in less than 24 hours. Dermatologists on Maple are the same specialists you’d see in person, but they also practice outside of their own clinic hours to see patients virtually.

Information presented here is for educational purposes, and not to replace the advice from your medical professional. Virtual care is not meant for medical emergencies. If you are experiencing an emergency like chest pain or difficulties breathing, for example, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

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