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Can Infection, Illness, or Malnutrition Cause Female Hair Loss?- Sunday, March 15, 2009

Question:

I am a 27 year old woman with normally thick hair and a family with no history of hair loss. I was very ill back in November with a dental infection that spread through my body and wreaked havoc for a month before the source of infection was located and removed. Never did it seem to effect my hair, however. For the first two weeks of November, I couldn't even eat - just drank water and forced popcicles every now and then. So it was a shock to the system. Starting just a month ago, my hair started falling out profusely. I'm in perfect health otherwise. I could thickly braid what came out in the shower so I cut my hair short and stopped washing it except once a week - now it makes a web of short hairs over my hands so its still shedding strong. I lose about 500 hairs daily, and if i wash it, much more. Each hair has a thick white bulb at the ends. Now, it seems its slowing down, but only very slightly and I wonder if its my imagination. Could this be from the illness I suffered? My doctor sent me to a dermatologist, but my scalp is fine minus a small amount of dandruff. He's not sure if my illness could cause this reaction. (at least he's honest!) Any ideas or tips? Thank you for this site!

Answer:

It is known that illness, infection, and/or extreme malnutrition (which may have occurred if you didn't eat or ate very little for an extended period of time) can cause a temporary diffuse hair loss known as telogen effluvium. The good news is, usually once the illness/infection subsides and/or eating habits return to normal, hair regrowth occurs and your hair will return to normal.

Telogen effluvium is usually a temporary condition and caused by some sort of "stressor" to the body. As a result, hair is often forced into telogen (the shedding phase) of the normal hair growth cycle due to shock. In surgical hair restoration, this is often referred to as "shock loss", since the trauma to the scalp during hair loss and restoration surgery may cause a temporary shedding of the surrounding natural hair. This is followed by an extended catagen or resting period of up to 3 to 5 months.

Once the stressor has been removed (in your case, if illness or malnutrition caused hair loss, once it subsides and/or eating habits return to normal), it usually takes approximately 3 to 5 months for hair regrowth to start. It can take even longer for hair to look normal since hair grows at a rate averaging 1/2 inch a month.

Be careful also not to braid your hair too tightly since pulling on the root too tightly can cause a form of hair loss known as traction alopecia, a balding pattern characterized by thinning or baldness in areas where hair was pulled too tightly.

To rule out other possible medical conditions, ask your dermatologist to perform a full medical evaluation including a test for low iron levels and to see if your thyroid and hormone levels are normal. Certain medications can also cause hair loss, so if you are taking any medicine, be sure to speak to your doctor about possible side effects.

Scalp infections such as seborrheic dermatitis, excessive dandruff, and psoriasis may also cause hair loss. Since you said you experience some moderate dandruff, you may also want to ask your dermatologist about treating it.

I hope this helps get you started in discovering the cause of and treating your hair loss.

Bill Seemiller - Managing Publisher of the Coalition Hair Loss Learning Center, and the Hair Loss Q & A Blog.

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