I am 18 years old and about a month ago i noticed my hair falling out increasingly fast. It has scared me to death. I’ve gone to see my general practitioner and he said that hair goes through shedding stages and that it is normal. It is definitely not normal for me. I insisted that he check my thyroid and my results came back normal. My family just repeatedly tells me that I’m crazy and have no reason to worry. I have just purchased an apartment with my friends and will start college in the fall. I am terrified to begin my new life with a hair loss problem. My hair has always been my best feature. It has always been thick, healthy, beautifully wavy, and I have always received compliments on it. I am emotionally devastated to watch my hair fall out in large amounts just from taking a shower or brushing my hair. It is nice to know that I’m not crazy, or alone. Thank You All!
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Telogen effluvium is the second most common type of hair loss. It is predominantly seen in women between the ages of 40-70, but may occur at any age. Its symptoms include excessive thinning, shedding, and balding and it may happen abruptly. Common causes of sudden hair loss include changes in hormone levels such as with child birth, menopause, poor nutrition, medical conditions such as iron deficiency anemia and hypothyroidism, medications, severe illness or infection, major surgery, and even extreme levels of stress.
Each follicle produces hair for 2 to 6 years and then takes a break for several months. While the hair follicle is in its rest phase, the hair falls out. There are around 100,000 follicles on the scalp, but because each follicle rests at a different time and others produce hairs, hair loss is usually unnoticeable. More noticeable hair loss occurs when there is a disruption to the growth and shedding cycle, or if the hair follicle is obliterated and replaced with scar tissue.
A directed history and physical examination usually uncover the etiology of hair loss. The history should focus on when the hair loss started; whether it was gradual or involved “handfuls” of hair; and if any physical, mental, or emotional stressors occurred within the previous three to six months3  (Table 1). Determining whether the patient is complaining of hair thinning (i.e., gradually more scalp appears) or hair shedding (i.e., large quantities of hair falling out) may clarify the etiology of the hair loss.4
Ironically, taking the hormone levothyroxine to treat an underactive thyroid can contribute to some hair loss, among other side effects, but this seems to be more common within the first month of treatment and more often in children than adults. This hair loss is only temporary and will go away as treatment is continued and thyroid hormone levels stabilize.
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