Yes, children’s hair loss is a real thing. It’s one thing for a man in his 30s to start losing his hair. It’s quite something else when it’s his grade-school child who is suffering one of any of a number of types of hair loss.
But it happens, and it’s more common than people realize until they are confronted with it. While exact numbers are hard to come by, WebMD reports that about 3 percent of pediatric office visits in the US are to address thinning hair or distinct bald spots. Thankfully, however, there are hair loss treatments for kids.
Hair loss can occur for a variety of reasons:
Injury: A burn or would to the scalp can leave hair follicles in the affected area damaged, particularly if the child is not able to access proper medical treatment. In most cases, the hair will regrow.
Telogen effluvium (stress-caused hair loss): “Stress” to children can take many forms. Those include sickness and injury (including fevers and infections), emotional abuse, surgery involving general anesthesia, certain medications, and nutritional imbalances or starvation. Any of these factors can cause hair loss when it throws natural hair growth off schedule (hair grows in a sequence of phases). The ill effect is often noticeable months after the stressful events, leading to confusion as to the cause. Over time, hair growth resumes a healthier schedule – assuming the stress does not reoccur.
Scalp ringworm: Technically a fungal infection (and having nothing to do with worms), it is characterized by a ring-shaped rash that is itchy and red in color. The condition on the scalp that it causes is known as tinea capitis. Hair loss actually results from the scratching that children do. Fortunately, it can be treated successfully by antifungal cream.
Alopecia areata: Blame this on the immune system being overly active and rejecting hair as if it were a foreign substance. It tends to happen sporadically, flaring up from time to time then receding, at which time the hair will regrow. Doctors try a variety of drugs “off label,” as they designed for other purposes. Some patients find light therapy to be effective, but only while treatments are continued.
Traction alopecia (styling that pulls the hair): Hair styles that involve a tight pull – pony tails and braids in particular – can damage the roots, which leads to infections that can result in permanent hair loss. It’s best to allow children the opportunity to grow up before choosing any such styles.
Trichotillomania (hair pulling): A type of obsessive-compulsive disorders includes pulling out hair, a condition that affects children, adults, and even infants. “Baby Trich” is usually a behavior such as thumb-sucking that the child grows out of, but around age 12 children engage in it, three-quarters of whom are female. (Adults with the condition roughly split evenly between men and women.)
As most of these conditions are reversible – if caught in time – the best advice for parents is to seek medical and psychological treatment for the condition as soon as possible.