Telogen effluvium is a surprisingly common hair loss condition that causes your hair to excessively shed, usually on the top of your scalp.
It can be very distressing to see your hair falling out, but worry not, as this condition is temporary and Dr Ravi Ratnavel, a leading consultant dermatologist, explains what triggers it and when you can expect to get the fullness back in your hair.
What is telogen effluvium?
Telogen effluvium a process by which the normal shedding of hairs increases dramatically due to a biological shock.
Telogen effluvium typically first appears on the scalp, and your hair may start to look thinner in a particular area, all over the head or, sometimes, in multiple places. It rarely causes your hair to recede and it’s uncommon to lose all of your hair.
The condition can be frightening because of its sudden onset and dramatic hair loss, but it rarely leads to baldness as the lost hairs are replaced by new growing ones.
What causes telogen effluvium?
Shock is one of the main causes of telogen effluvium that may have been brought on by one of the following:
- major surgery
- physical and psychological trauma
- an illness
- extreme weight loss
- sudden hormonal changes of childbirth
Starting certain medications can bring on symptoms of telogen effluvium as well, so it’s important to consult your doctor if you notice this.
Which phase of the hair cycle is telogen effluvium associated with?
The lifecycle of a hair passes through four different stages: anagen, catagen, telogen and exogen.
Approximately 10-15% of an individual’s hairs will normally grow during the anagen phase with the remainder in the telegenic phase - also known as the resting phase. This leads to the average person shedding around 100 hairs per day.
Telogen effluvium typically manifests itself by increased shedding of hairs in the telogen phase, usually 300 or more a day rather than the usual 100.
During the initial stages, you normally don’t notice any obvious signs of hair loss, such as thinning or baldness. The majority of hair loss usually occurs 2-4 months after the triggering event and can last between 4-6 months. This is because your hair rests during the telogen phase for around 2-3 months before falling out. Patients will usually start to notice this increased hair shedding on their pillows and in the shower.
How is telogen effluvium diagnosed?
No tests are usually required. You can be diagnosed based on your clinical history and an examination of your shed hair, using a characteristic white bulb, which will very likely show an increased number of telogen hairs.
How can telogen effluvium be treated?
The best way to treat telogen effluvium is to understand what triggered your symptoms. Was it a physical or mental trauma? Hormone changes? When you know, you should try to create a stable environment to allow your hair follicles to start growing normally again. You should expect a complete recovery from telogen effluvium usually without the need for medical treatment.
Certain treatments can be explored, however, if there’s an ongoing underlying medical issue, such as an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) or iron deficiency with or without anaemia.
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned in this article and would like to talk to Dr Ratnavel, visit his Top Doctors profile and book an e-Consultation with him.