You step into the shower and rinse your hair. You look at the ground, and what do you see? A rather alarming number of strands that have drifted from your scalp.
Maybe you even notice clumps of hair in your brush bristles after your daily brushing.
Wherever it happens, excessive hair loss can be a troubling thing to deal with. If you’ve recently noticed clumps of hair falling out, here’s what might be going on inside your body and what you can do to treat it.
To understand hair loss, you must understand hair growth.
There are three stages in the growth cycle:
- Anagen. It is at this time that the hair actively grows in length.
- Catagen. This is when the hair stops growing.
- Telogen. This is when the hair rests and eventually falls out.
About 90 percent of your hair is immediately in the anagen stage, and this growth phase can last for years.
The transitional phase, catagen, is much shorter —often only a few weeks —and telogen lasts a few months.
There are about 100,000 follicles hair growing on the middle scalp, and it is common to lose up to 100 strands one day. Once an individual hair has shed, the follicle prepares for regrowth and the whole cycle begins again.
However, the cycle can be disrupted by factors such as aging and hormonal changes, such as menopause. As we age, some follicles no longer grows new hairleading to a thinner appearance or bald patches.
Certain conditions can also lead to an imbalance, where half of the hair on the head enter the telogen phase of excretion.
So what can cause clumps of hair to fall out? Well, there are a lot of potential culprits, and some people may have more than one issue at play.
Male and female pattern baldness
Some causes lead to permanent hair loss.
Male and female pattern baldness is one of them. One of the most common forms of hair loss, it is often seen in more than one generation of a family.
Hormones, as well as genetics, can play a gameleading to smaller follicles that eventually stop producing hair.
Men tend to notice hair fall and patches of hair loss on the top of the head.
For women, typical hair loss results in hair thinningespecially on the crown.
Stress – such as that of a traumatic event, health problem (such as surgery), rapid weight loss, or pregnancy – can be a significant factor in telogen effluvium.
Essentially, this means there is temporary hair loss where more hair enters the telogen phase than is typical.
This can difficult to determine the cause of stress, because hair loss often does not occur immediately, but falls 3-6 months later. That said, if you find yourself losing clumps of hair several months after a big event like the ones mentioned above, chances are stress is the culprit.
Low levels of iron, zinc and vitamins
Alopecia occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles, leading to hair loss. Sometimes hair grows back on its own.
There are several forms of alopecia:
- Alopecia areata. This type causes patches of baldness.
- Total alopecia. This type causes complete baldness on the head.
- Universal alopecia. This one is much rarer and causes the whole body to lose all its hair.
If left untreated, the hormonal changes caused can prevent new hair strands from developing.
Other conditions and medications
Autoimmune diseases, like lupus and chronic infections, may also be to blame.
You may also find that medicationssuch as chemotherapy drugs, retinoids, beta blockers and antidepressants, can cause hair loss.
In many cases, hair grows back when you stop taking the drug.
According to NHS, most forms of hair loss do not require treatment. This is because much hair loss is temporary or natural due to aging.
However, you may need to be patient. It can take months for hair to start growing back and even longer for it to look “normal” again (whatever that means to you).
That said, there are some approaches you can try to manage hair loss:
- Take care of your general health if your hair loss is caused by your lifestyle. Try to make sure you eat a balanced diet with enough protein (usually at least 50 grams per day), vitamins and minerals.
- Treat your hair and scalp gently, avoiding excessive heat styling and dyeing. Choose mild, sulfate-free products.
- If you want to embark on a specific treatment against hair loss, know that no remedy is 100% effective. Options include minoxidil (aka Rogaine), a drug that can help counter hair loss and slow the likes of baldness. However, you must use it every day for it to be effective – if you stop using it, your hair loss will resume.
- Try treating male pattern baldness with finasteride (Propecia), which lowers the DHT hormone for extra hair growth and less hair loss.
- Consider steroid injections or creams and ultraviolet (UV) light treatment, which may have positive effects.
Remember: see a doctor if your hair falls out in large clumps. They will be able to advise you on effective treatment options.
Some forms of hair loss are hereditary or caused by disease, so there is no surefire way to prevent the clumps from falling out.
But it’s okay to take a look at your current lifestyle and make some changes if needed.
These changes might involve combating stress by exercising regularly or trying calming rituals, such as yoga or meditation. You can also work to get enough sleep and enough nutrients by increasing your fruit and vegetable intake.
Also try to treat your hair with care. Stay away from potentially aggravating ingredients, like alcohol and heated drying tools.
Losing clumps of hair can be particularly distressing. But there will always be an underlying reason, whether it’s a health issue, stress level, or family genetics.
The best person to help you find the cause is a specialist doctor or dermatologist.
And remember: most hair loss is temporary and will eventually grow back.
Lauren Sharkey is a UK-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she’s not trying to figure out a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your hidden health questions. She has also written a book about young female activists around the world and is currently building a community of such resisters. catch it Twitter.