Hair Falling Out in Clumps: What it is and Why it Happens
Even if you’re not going bald, It’s normal for a small amount of your hair to fall out every day. In fact, experts agree that the average person loses between 50 and 150 hairs per day as part of their normal hair growth cycle.
Normal hair shedding tends to affect your entire scalp, with a consistent amount of hairs shed from the front, back, top and sides of your head. As a result, it usually doesn’t have any visible impact on the thickness or overall appearance of your hair.
However, if your hair is falling out in clumps, it could signal everything from stress to a range of underlying medical conditions.
Below, we’ve explained why your hair could start to fall out in clumps, as well as what it could mean about your general health. We’ve also explained what you can do to treat hair loss that occurs in clumps or patches, from lifestyle changes to science-backed medications.
Normal Hair Shedding vs. Abnormal Hair Loss
Hair loss can occur for several reasons, ranging from normal hair shedding as part of your hair growth cycle to male pattern baldness and stress-related hair loss.
The most common form of hair loss is normal hair shedding. This occurs when each strand of your hair reaches its full length and detaches from the hair follicle. After it detaches from your scalp, a new hair breaks through the skin and causes the old strand of hair to shed.
This is a completely normal, healthy form of hair loss. If you don’t notice any visible changes in your hair thickness or hairline but occasionally spot shed hairs on your pillow, your clothing and around the house, it’s likely just normal hair shedding.
Our guide to how many hairs you should lose per day, linked above, goes into more detail on the hair growth cycle, as well as how it can cause you to shed hair.
Male Pattern Baldness
Another common form of hair loss is androgenic hair loss, or male pattern baldness. This occurs when dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, miniaturises your hair follicles and causes you to lose hair in a certain part of your scalp.
Male pattern baldness usually occurs in a specific pattern, such as a receding hairline or loss of hair around your crown. Since the hair you lose from male pattern baldness doesn’t grow back, it has a clear, obvious effect on your appearance.
Our guide to the early signs of balding covers the key things to look for if you think you’re prone to male pattern baldness, from a receding hairline to diffuse thinning.
Other Types of Hair Loss
Finally, hair can fall out for a variety of health-related reasons. For example, a form of hair loss called telogen effluvium can cause you to lose hair if you’re stressed, or if you’ve recently dealt with a traumatic or shocking event.
Alopecia areata, another form of hair loss, is caused by autoimmune disorders that target your hair follicles. Even exposure to harsh chemicals or hair treatments, such as hair dyes and heat treatments, can cause certain patches of your hair to fall out.
What Causes Your Hair to Fall Out in Clumps?
Both normal hair shedding and male pattern baldness can both cause you to lose hair. However, these types of hair loss generally cause your hair to fall out either evenly across the entire scalp or in a specific baldness pattern.
When your hair falls out in clumps, it’s usually the result of a health-related form of hair loss like telogen effluvium.
Telogen effluvium is a form of hair loss that’s caused by stress. It can happen if you’re stressed from your job, if you’re going through a stressful issue in your personal life, or if you’ve recently dealt with a shocking or traumatic event.
If you have telogen effluvium, a higher-than-normal number of your hairs will enter the telogen (resting) phase of the hair growth cycle. In a person without telogen effluvium, only five percent to 10 percent of hairs are in this phase at a time, resulting in a consistent rate of mild hair shedding.
When you’re affected by telogen effluvium, as much as 30 percent of your hair follicles can enter into the telogen phase at the same time. This can cause you to rapidly lose hair in large clumps.
As well as factors like stress, telogen effluvium can be triggered by sudden weight loss, certain medications, surgery, a diet lacking in essential nutrients and contact with toxic materials, such as metals and chemicals.
In women, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause can also affect the hair growth cycle and lead to some level of additional hair shedding. It’s also possible for other health conditions, such as an underactive or overactive thyroid, to contribute to telogen effluvium.
Telogen effluvium can affect men and women. Unlike hair loss from male pattern baldness, hair loss from telogen effluvium is temporary. After you’ve treated the root cause of the hair loss, it’s normal for the hair you’ve lost to gradually grow back.
If you suspect telogen effluvium could be the cause of your hair loss, it’s important to meet with a doctor to discuss your symptoms. Telogen effluvium can often be treated through changes to your lifestyle and diet, counseling and, in some cases, medications to help you manage stress.
When telogen effluvium is caused by a disorder or health condition such as hypothyroidism, it’s often possible to end and reverse hair loss by treating the underlying condition.
After treatment, it can take several months for hair you’ve lost as a result of telogen effluvium to grow back. Because telogen effluvium doesn’t involve DHT, it’s rare to lose hair permanently as a result of this type of hair loss.
Alopecia areata, or spot baldness, is a form of hair loss that causes your hair to fall out in small, specific patches.
Unlike telogen effluvium, which normally affects the entire scalp, alopecia areata only results in hair loss in specific areas of your scalp. If you have alopecia areata, it’s common for hair to fall out in one or more small, coin-sized patches.
Alopecia areata is a fairly uncommon condition. It’s caused by your immune system targeting the hair follicles. Doctors aren’t sure exactly why it occurs, but believe it’s a mix of genetic and environmental factors.
Because alopecia areata isn’t a form of hormonal hair loss, medications that are used to treat male pattern aren’t effective. Instead, most doctors treat alopecia areata using corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory medications that can limit the damage to your hair follicles.
Male Pattern Baldness
Although it’s uncommon, severe cases of male pattern baldness can cause your hair to fall out rapidly, resulting in clumps of hair on your pillow and in your hairbrush.
Male pattern baldness typically results in slow, gradual hair loss. Most men who go bald notice their hairline slowly receding or the hair around their crown gradually thinning over a period of several months or years. In some cases, it can take decades for a person to go fully bald.
However, men with a strong level of sensitivity to DHT, or abnormally high levels of DHT, might experience hair loss that’s faster than normal.
Since this type of hair loss is caused by hormonal factors, the most effective treatment option is to inhibit the production of DHT. Finasteride, a medication that specifically targets DHT, can help to prevent hair loss — and even result in some regrowth of lost hair — in men prone to baldness.
Our guide to how finasteride works as a treatment for hair loss goes into more detail on the key benefits of finasteride, as well as how you can use it to treat male pattern baldness.
In addition to finasteride, minoxidil is an effective treatment for male pattern baldness. It works by improving the flow of blood and nutrients to the hair follicles, stimulating growth by causing hair follicles to enter into the anagen (growth) phase of the hair growth cycle.
Minoxidil is a topical medication, meaning you’ll need to apply it directly to your scalp to treat hair loss. Our guide to minoxidil goes into more detail on how this medication works and what you can expect if you use it to treat male pattern baldness.
Anagen effluvium is a form of hair loss that can occur when you’re using certain medications, or undergoing radiation-based treatments. This type of hair loss commonly occurs during treatment for certain forms of cancer. Anagen effluvium often involves sudden, rapid hair loss.
Because this type of hair loss is a response to a medical treatment, it’s usually easy to predict in advance. Like other forms of hair loss that aren’t caused by scarring or DHT, hair loss caused by anagen effluvium typically reverses after the underlying condition is treated.
Our guide to anagen effluvium goes into more detail on this type of hair loss, why it occurs and how it can be treated.
Scarring alopecia is a form of hair loss that’s not caused by DHT, but by the development of scar tissue that destroys your hair follicles. Like alopecia areata, this type of hair loss can develop as a result of an autoimmune condition, as well as certain illnesses that affect the hair follicles.
In comparison to male pattern baldness, telogen effluvium and other forms of hair loss, scarring alopecia is fairly uncommon. Depending on the type of scarring hair loss, it’s usually treated with anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroids and immunosuppressants,
Our guide to scarring alopecia goes into more detail on how scarring alopecia can happen, as well as the most effective treatment options that are available.
So, What Does It All Mean?
Most of the time, hair falling out in clumps is caused by telogen effluvium. However, it’s possible for other forms of hair loss, such as male pattern baldness or alopecia areata, to cause your hair to fall out rapidly in large clumps.
If you’ve noticed a sudden increase in hair loss and aren’t sure why it’s occurring, it’s best to talk to your doctor. They’ll be able to diagnose the specific form of hair loss you’re suffering from and recommend a treatment to prevent further hair loss and restore your hair.
Learn More About Hair Loss
Worried about hair loss? While some amount of hair shedding is normal, significant amounts of hair loss can often indicate that you’re affected by male pattern baldness or by another condition that targets your hairline.
Our guide to how many hairs you should lose a day, linked above, explains more about what type of hair loss is normal and what isn’t, so that you can take appropriate action if you’re worried you’re losing an excessive amount of hair on a daily basis.
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