HELP! My hair is falling out. -Many readers from many places
A: You are not alone. Be selective in your panic Googling (tips below). Don’t fall for product peddlers on the internet. Talk to a trusted medical provider.
First, hugs from the Nerdy Girls. Pandemic-era living stinks for a lot of reasons, and the “near-perfect mass hair-loss event” it’s triggered certainly ranks among them. (Thanks to The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull and editors for this perfect turn-of-phrase that accompanies an amazing piece of health science journalism. Link below).
A few key things to know:
💘 RECOGNIZE YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Hair loss during the pandemic has been quite common, both from SARS-CoV-2 infection itself as well as the associated stress and trauma of living in pandemic times. For many, hair loss can cause emotional upset. You are not alone.
🛑 BEWARE SCIENCE-Y SOUNDING PRODUCTS and “supplements” peddled on the internet
As Mull describes in her article, there’s a “booming market for untested, nonmedical health products” that simply don’t work. This market exploits emotional upset and the lack of easily accessible, credible hair loss information. Which brings us to……
🤓 SEEK INFORMATION FROM CREDIBLE SOURCES
What struck me (Nerdy Girl Lindsey) most about this article is the author’s maddening search for credible, accessible, and easy-to-understand information. Her struggle highlights that even highly sophisticated people can feel simultaneously overwhelmed AND underserved by the health information sea we’re all swimming in. This makes us all vulnerable to being duped by bad actors making big bank on ineffective and potentially unsafe products.
Here are a few credible information sources (links provided in reference section below). As always, we’d love to learn about our community members’ other trusted information sources, too!
➡️ The American Academy of Dermatology stewards a comprehensive, non-technical “Hair Loss Resource Center” for patients and the general public. It’s a great starting point.
➡️ Family Doctor, a website for the general public published by the American Academy of Family Physicians, has nice background information and a specific list of questions to ask a clinician at an initial appointment.
➡️ U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedLine Plus collection on hair loss is an A+ resource linking to lots of good, credible info. Bonus! It links to credible Spanish-language content.
➡️ American Family Physician, a website for primary care providers also published by the American Academy of Family Physicians, has great clinical and scientific information on its “Hair Loss: Common Causes and Treatment” page (although given the target audience of clinicians please note that the language is a touch more technical)
➡️ Mayo Clinic’s “Hair Loss” website….also chock-a-block full of specific questions to ask at a clinical appointment
➡️ Cleveland Clinic’s summary review of hair loss diagnosis and treatment (also targeting a clinician audience, and primarily focusing on permanent causes of hair loss. But still quite helpful to patients – for example, it lists specific exams, tests, and labs to expect at a clinic visit)
➡️ American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD) has a nice explainer of temporary, stress-induced hair loss – called “telogen effluvium” – on its website
➡️ UpToDate’s “Evaluation and diagnosis of hair loss.” This is a subscription website, alas, but your care provider likely has access to it (and is reading it)
🧑⚕️ TALK TO A TRUSTED CLINICIAN.
Diagnosing the cause of hair loss and plotting an effective treatment plan is quite tricky. It’s highly dependent on the specific person (e.g. genetics) and their current context (e.g. experiencing a recent stressor, which can range broadly across job losses, grief, trauma, weight changes, infections…SARS-CoV-2 or otherwise….etc etc.). We recognize that health care access is strained right now as providers are burned out and dealing with the continuing pants-on-fire emergency that is the pandemic. So granting them and their staff and their overwhelmed systems some patience and grace is key.
Pro tips from our friend and #scicomm partner endocrinologist Dr. Eve Bloomgarden*:
➡️ Watch out for these “red flag” symptoms (aka call your provider!): scarring; facial acne or new facial hair; voice deepening; complete baldness
➡️ Also: She mentioned that there’s no need to bring in a bag of shedded hairs to your care provider 😬
📈 Finally, REMEMBER THAT CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION
From Mull’s article: “What makes all of this harder is that hair loss…is a long game played on a wonky, counterintuitive timeline. It’s a nightmare for people trying to distinguish correlation and causation on their own…because the vagaries of hair’s growth cycle, (temporary) shedding generally doesn’t start until two to four months after the stressor that triggered it occurred. By then, people are no longer thinking about the flu they had months ago – a new shampoo or medication might get the blame instead.”
On a similar note, Dr. Bloomgarden points out that in many cases temporary hair loss eventually resolves itself. Unfortunately people sometimes misattribute this return to normal as a (fake) “success” of whatever supplement they may have taken.
A final Nerdy Note:
We see you. We send you a(nother!) nerdy hug. And although we never provide individual medical advice, we are *always* here to provide advice on medical information-seeking!
Your Nerdy Girls
*Dr. Bloomgarden bears no responsibility for any of this post – she graciously shared her insight with me and I alone am responsible for anything missed or misinterpreted -Nerdy Girl Lindsey