Is your teen complaining of hair loss? Have you noticed bald spots on the scalp, sparse eyebrows, or missing eyelashes on your teen? If so, your child may have a disorder called Trichotillomania.
Trichotillomania is an impulsive disorder that can occur in people of any age. However, it commonly begins in the teen years. Sufferers of the condition have a compelling need to pull out their body hair. It's often their way of coping with stress. The pulling out of the hair gives them a sense of relief and helps to soothe their emotions.
The person knows they shouldn't pull out their hair, but they can't stop themselves. It isn't known what causes the disorder, but some studies reveal it may be linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain. It tends to run in families and may occur along with anxiety and depression.
A secret disorder
Your teen may not pull her hair out when she is around you or others. This makes getting a diagnosis of trichotillomania difficult. You may be concerned and take your teen to the doctor and still not get a proper diagnosis.
Your teen may deny knowing what is going on due to feelings of embarrassment. The process of pulling out the hair can became habitual, and your teen may not even realize she is doing it at times. If a teen is hiding the disorder, it's not uncommon for your family doctor to miss the diagnosis. The doctor may begin by looking for other disorders that can cause hair loss such as vitamin deficiencies and thyroid disorders.
What to look for
Other than the obvious bare spots on the scalp or missing eyelashes or eyebrows, you should observe your child when they are studying, watching TV, or falling asleep. These may be times when your child is pulling their hair out without realizing it. Excessive twirling of the hair or chewing on a strand of hair is another sign to watch for. Some teens start to wear hats to cover up the missing hair.
Diagnosis and treatment
Getting a diagnosis can be difficult. Try talking to your child. If they admit they have a problem, you can schedule an appointment with a trained counselor or psychologist. Cognitive behavioral therapy is useful and may be combined with medication in certain cases to treat the disorder.
If your child denies the problem, you should schedule an appointment with your physician and discuss your concerns. Your doctor may make the diagnosis based on symptoms and by ruling out other medical conditions.
Repeatedly picking at the skin and pulling out the hair can result in Infection, and damage to the skin may occur in some cases. Infection and skin damage can lead to permanent hair loss.
A visit to a dermatologist is a good preventative measure for anyone suffering from trichotillomania. They can inspect the skin and look for signs of infection. They can prescribe creams and medications if necessary to help restore any damage.
Trichotillomania is treatable. Let your teen know she is not alone. Encourage her not to feel embarrassed by the disorder. Talk to her doctor and counselor and ask them for ways you can help her at home. In most cases, the hair will grow back and your teen's self-esteem will return along with it. Talk to your teen's doctor, such as Thomas P. Senter, M.D., for more information.Share