Drastic Hair Shedding in Women - Causes, Treatments, and Coping

Written By Wilfredo Allen on Thursday, May 8, 2014 | 9:00 PM


Few things are as emotionally draining as shedding buckets of hair for a long period of time.  Most people can handle this for a short period of time (like with seasonal shedding) but when this condition lingers on, panic starts to set in. We start to picture the worst case scenarios like wigs or very thin hair that is hard to camouflage.  I understand this because I was in the situation myself.  It can be very hard to take a step back and take the emotion out of it when you evaluate treatments.  The following article is meant to help you determine the proper course of action and to help you cope as you are going through this.

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Some Common Causes Or Reasons For Drastic Shedding For Women:  If the shedding starts out of the blue about 2-3 months after a period of stress, illness, and body or hormonal changes, the most likely culprit is telogen effluvium or TE.  This is basically where your hair follicles have gone from growing to resting and are resetting.  More than the normal 10 percent of follicles are going into the resting phase at once.  What you'll typically get is very drastic hair loss that goes on for a couple of months but then begins to taper down.

Sometimes, the shedding lingers though and in this case you have CTE or the chronic variety of this condition. Sometimes, the changes in the body don't repair or right themselves on their own and you'll have to play detective until you can determine exactly what's "off" and how to fix it.

In both of these cases, you should keep your scalp clean and free of debris and inflammation. I know it's tempting to cut back on the washing and grooming since every time you do, you probably have an increase in shedding, but trust me when I say that down the road, this can make the problem worse.  Keeping your scalp clean and combating the inflammation that can occur when tons of follicles are resetting at once is very important. 

Although it's tempting to begin a lot of aggressive treatments, I would recommend some restraint. It's OK to try different things, but start slowly and introduce only one thing at a time.  If you throw a bunch of things at the problem, then if you have a bad reaction or result, you're left wondering which product is the culprit which can be so frustrating. Often, you'll have to just stop everything and start over, which isn't what you probably want.

Sometimes allergic reactions or new scalp issues can cause dramatic shedding, but you'll often have other issues that crop up other than just the hair loss.  You'll often see changes or sores on your scalp or on other areas of your body.  Often a dermatologist can spot this type of loss pretty quickly.

Finally, sometimes AGA or genetic female thinning can begin very abruptly and dramatically.  There are times when androgenic alopecia presents like TE, but this is the exception rather than the rule.  You can often begin to tell the difference when the regrowth starts to set in.  With TE, you'll often have healthy and vigorous regrowth since your hair will just resume it's regular cycles.  But with AGA, you may see thinner, finer hair coming in (called miniaturization).

It's very important to understand which type of loss you have because the treatments are different.  With scalp or dermatological issues, medications and ointments are sometimes needed.  For TE, the best course of action is time and a healthy scalp.  For AGA, you'll need to address the androgen or DHT sensitivity as well as to stimulate normal and healthy regrowth.

Coping With Dramatic Hair Loss:  You emotional health is as important right now as your scalp's health.  Stress can make this problem worse, so it's important to take care of yourself right now.  I know it's easy to go to the worst case scenario, but if you shed tons of hair every day with absolutely no regrowth, it would take you three years to become bald. Chances are, you are regrowing hair, and you do have control over the quality of that hair, so always remember this and try to keep things in perspective.

If the shedding is driving you crazy, consider wearing it up (although you should avoid styles that pull.) Try to keep yourself busy so that you aren't always conscious of every fallen hair. Never count them.  I know you want to know if you are losing more than the "normal" 100 hair per day, but you know what's normal for you and what isn't.  You know if the shed is less from one day to the next.  There is no need to count and this will drive you crazy anyway.

Get yourself a good vacuum cleaner and vacuum once per day so that you aren't always seeing hair everywhere. Wear clothes that camouflage the hair that is falling on your clothes. For example, my hair is dark. I'm a brunette so I would not want to wear light colored or white shirts when I am going through a large shed.  Don't keep looking in the mirror looking for small changes.  This too, will drive you crazy.  Fix your hair once per day, leave it alone and know that tomorrow is another day. Educate yourself and never stop looking for treatments that help or work but don't become so obsessed that this becomes all you think about.

Blog, Updated at: 9:00 PM

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