About hair loss or alopecia
There are several different types of hair loss, which have different causes. The medical name for hair loss is alopecia.
Baldness and hair loss in babies
Many babies are bald from birth, or lose their hair shortly afterwards. With time, most babies grow permanent, thicker hair on their heads.
Also, healthy babies often have bald patches at the backs or sides of their scalps. This is because they lie on their backs a lot of the time, so their heads often rub against something. Your baby’s hair will grow regularly when they can spend more time sitting up.
Regular hair loss in childhood and adolescence
Everyone sheds a certain amount of hair each day, particularly when they brush or wash their hair.
Increased hair loss in childhood and adolescence
Sometimes children might lose more hair than usual if they’ve had a stressful experience like an illness or a traumatic event, they’ve lost weight or they’re using a new medication. This type of hair loss generally improves within 3-6 months.
If you notice your child’s hair thinning, it could be a sign of thyroid gland problems. But this is rare in children.
Patches of hair loss
There are a few things that might cause patches of hair loss in children:
- Ringworm is a common cause.
- Repeated brushing or firm combing might cause patchy hair loss in some children. This pattern of hair loss will sort itself out gradually as your child grows.
- Nervous habits might cause some older children to pull their hair out.
- Trichotillomania is when children pull at their hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. It can be a sign of an emotional disorder.
This is a particular type of alopecia. It’s a common autoimmune skin condition that causes hair loss from different parts of the body. It happens because the immune system accidentally attacks hair follicles.
Problems with the hair shafts
There are some conditions that are present from a young age that make the hair feel like wool or wire, make it very brittle, or stop it from growing long. In some rare cases, these conditions can cause hair loss in children.
Symptoms of hair loss
The main symptom of hair loss is bald patches or thinning patches on the scalp.
If your child has ringworm, they might:
- complain of an itchy or tender scalp
- have a scaly patch on the bald patch, which is brown, purple or grey on darker skin and red on lighter skin.
- have short, dull and bent hair on or around the bald patch.
If your child has alopecia areata, they:
- will have a completely bald patch or patches
- won’t have scaling, changed skin colour, scarring, itching or tenderness
- might have bald patches or hair loss on areas of the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes or body, or over the entire scalp or body.
If your child has trichotillomania, they might have:
- bald patches at the front or side of the scalp
- patches that aren’t completely bald and that are an irregular shape
- hairs of different lengths in and around the bald patches
- hair loss in their eyebrows and eyelashes.
Does your child need to see a doctor about hair loss?
Yes. You should take your child to see your GP if your child has:
- significant hair loss or thinning for no apparent reason
- an itchy or tender scalp
- a spongy lump under the area of hair loss
- hair loss and also has a fever, is drowsy, is in a lot of pain or is generally unwell.
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 hair loss
Hair loss treatment usually works well. Also, most cases that are treated early won’t cause scarring.
The type of treatment your child needs will depend on the underlying cause of the hair loss.
Many children with small patches of alopecia areata will have hair regrowth without treatment. If your child’s bald patches are getting worse, your doctor might prescribe corticosteroid cream or another treatment for the affected area for a few weeks. If your child has complete or rapid hair loss, your doctor might prescribe an oral medicine.
Some older children might feel upset or stressed about their bald patches. Talking with a GP or counsellor might help.
Prevention of hair loss
Here are some ways to prevent or reduce regular hair loss:
- Be careful when combing, brushing and shampooing your child’s hair, because pulling too hard on hair shafts can increase regular hair loss.
- Try not to make ponytails or pigtails too tight because this can pull out hairs along your child’s front hairline.
- Avoid using hair straighteners or chemicals on your child’s hair because this can damage the hairs and irritate the scalp.