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Sometimes alopecia – or hair loss – in children can be quite normal. But if you’re worried about your child losing hair, seeing your doctor can help you rule out any cause for concern.

Causes of alopecia or hair loss

Normal hair loss
Sometimes children have bald patches on the scalp because of hair loss. Many babies are bald from birth, or lose their hair shortly afterwards. This is a normal pattern before permanent hair starts growing.

Also, healthy babies often have a bald patch at the back or side of their scalps because of rubbing or pressure caused by lying on the mattress of their cot or in baby seats. Normal hair will grow when your baby can spend more time sitting up.

Abnormal hair loss
There are several causes of abnormal hair loss in children and teenagers.

Ringworm is a common cause of abnormal hair loss in children.

Alopecia areata is a common skin condition that causes hair loss from different parts of the body. It doesn’t scar, but older children can feel distressed if they lose hair from large areas.

Older children might pull out their hair as a kind of nervous habit. Some children pull at their eyebrows and eyelashes also. This is known as trichotillomania and can be a sign of emotional disturbance.

Some children might have incomplete hair loss in areas of their scalp that are repeatedly brushed or combed firmly. This is because of immature hair follicles and because the hair shaft is poorly attached to the scalp. This pattern of hair loss will sort itself out gradually as your child grows.

If you notice your child’s hair thinning, it could be a sign of thyroid gland problems. Thyroid disease is rare in children, but if you notice this symptom, discuss it with your doctor.

Symptoms of alopecia or hair loss

The main symptom of hair loss is a bald or thinning patch.

If your child has ringworm or impetigo, she might complain of an itchy or tender scalp too. With ringworm, you might also see some redness and scaling in your child’s bald patch, as well as some short, dull and bent hairs, which are only a few millimetres in length.

In trichotillomania, the bald patches are usually at the front or side of the scalp. The patches are never completely bald and will have hairs of different lengths.

If your child has alopecia areata, the patch will be completely bald, and the scalp won’t have any signs of scaling, redness or scarring. It isn’t itchy or tender. This condition can happen anywhere on the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes or hairy areas of the body.

When to see your doctor about alopecia or hair loss

You should take your child to see your GP if your child:

  • has significant hair loss or thinning for no apparent reason
  • has an itchy or tender scalp
  • is generally unwell, in addition to hair loss.

If your child is losing hair from large areas and is feeling upset or stressed about it, it might be a good idea to ask your GP for a referral to a dermatologist.

Treatment for alopecia or hair loss

Treatment for hair loss involves treating the underlying cause, and reassuring your child that the hair will regrow and won’t cause scarring.

Small patches of alopecia areata that don’t grow in size usually sort themselves out without treatment.

If your child’s bald patches are getting worse, your doctor might prescribe steroid cream for a few weeks.

Some older children and teenagers might feel upset or stressed about their bald patches – talking with a doctor or counsellor might help.

Prevention of alopecia or hair loss

Be careful when combing, brushing and shampooing your child’s hair – pulling too hard on hair shafts can cause hair loss. Also, try not to make ponytails or pigtails too tight.

  • Last updated or reviewed 23-03-2016