Am I losing my hair or just my mind?
November 4, 2011 9:47 AM   Subscribe

How can I tell if I'm losing too much hair or just shedding normally?

For the past three weeks or so I feel like I'm definitely shedding extra hair, but I can't decide whether it's normal shedding or something I should be concerned about. I have a history of health anxiety and I am also pretty vain and consider my hair one of my best features.

I am 21-year-old lady. My hair is just beyond shoulder length, very fine and quite thick. I do not use heat on it and only colour it with natural dyes which I have been using for over 6 years with no problem. It still seems healthy and glossy. I have no bald spots and while I think it seems thinner, my friends disagree with me. My mother says that I have always shed a lot of hair, even as a little girl.

It is not coming out in clumps but I feel like I am shedding a lot. I wash it bi-daily and last time I counted and there were ~40 hairs out in the shower. When I wake up in the morning there are 3-4 hairs on my pillow, some more (haven't counted) comes out when I brush it, and throughout the day I probably pick 4-5 hairs off my clothes. According to the Internet you can lose up to 100 hairs a day but it really seems like a lot, and if I am indeed losing my hair I want to stop the problem ASAP.

I have already been to the doctor three weeks ago as I was feeling quite tired. All my numbers came back fine except for borderline low iron and my energy has since improved after taking iron supplements. However, I have been significantly anaemic in the past with no hair loss. I know that some people have thyroid symptoms in the 'normal' range, but my TSH is 2.15. I did not have my hormone levels checked, because my doctor believed it was unnecessary because I have no symptoms of PCOS...I have very clear skin, a normal menstrual cycle, very little body hair and I am not overweight (BMI 21.5).

I eat well and exercise regularly. I am a vegetarian and I take a daily multivitamin, iron, B12 and D supplements. I am not on birth control or other medications. I was very stressed in August to mid-September as I had a neck injury that looked like MS symptoms (spoiler alert, this was me: and spent a lot of time very anxious and upset, I don't know if this could have had any effect on my hair.

I am wondering if I seem to be shedding normally or if I should go back to the doctor for more tests. I really, really do not want to lose my hair and because of my anxiety I have trouble distinguishing a real health problem from an imagined one. Sorry for the long post but I wanted to give as much information as possible. Thank you all in advance.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I vote anxiety. Do you have a regular hairdresser who can take a brush to your hair and tell you if they see any changes?

Another possibility is that you are shedding more than usual because this is a time of year when you shed more than usual.

Purely WAG- perhaps the neck issues caused some circulation problems that led to TEMPORARY changes in hair growth cycles. Temporary - I yelled at you because I seriously doubt there is a reason for concern and didn't want you to hear only the "change in hair growth" part.

Please stop counting hairs! You know this is not helping your anxiety.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:58 AM on November 4, 2011

I tend to lose hair when I am under prolonged stress. That is actually one of the markers for me to make re-adjustments in my daily routine to allow myself time to de-stress. So it very well may be that your anxiety about the neck injury may have something to do with your hair loss, but from what you describe it does not seem out of the normal range, imho.
posted by mooselini at 9:58 AM on November 4, 2011

That does seem like unusual hair loss. For me, I could tell when I had some extra hair loss because when I ran my hands through my hair, hairs would always come out, generally three or four each time.

Does early hair thinning run in your family? If not, my immediate thought is that hair loss usually shows up about three months after a precipitating (so to speak!) event - a new medication or (so I read) a lot of stress.

As I recall from my own hair loss episode, you start shedding three months or so after the event and you keep shedding until three months or so after the event stops - sometimes more, sometimes less.

If you are like me (I too have anxiety and thick fine hair) here's what will happen: you'll shed a lot for a few more months and you'll freak out, but because you have thick hair it will not be visible to anyone else. Your hair regrowth will start kicking in a few months from now and you'll have a whole crop of new short hairs at once - you will probably see them at your hairline. (This was visible for me but not super!crazy!visible!) Your hair texture may change slightly (mine is partially wavy now) and you may end up with some messed up follicles. I had a little permanent loss in which a few scattered hair follicles gradually produced more and more attenuated hairs, some of which were very fine and weirdly wiry. My overall hair texture is finer, I think, but because it was very thick to begin with no one notices but me.

Mine was because of a new medication (and possibly stress exacerbated it). It took the better part of a year to totally resolve, but everything turned out okay in the end. And I emphasize that no one noticed - not family, not dates, not friends.

I suggest that if you're still shedding in six months (or if you start getting bald patches - but don't worry, you won't) then you should go back to the doctor for a hormone panel.

But this seems like ordinary mental and physical stress-caused shedding to me, it sounds like it will grow back just fine.
posted by Frowner at 10:03 AM on November 4, 2011

Telogen effluvium - I've gotten this too. Serious physical or mental stress can shock the hair so it stops growing, and it sheds a couple months later. It's rarely noticeable, and the hair grows back. Totally normal, but if you keep shedding after several weeks you might want to see a doctor.

Another explanation: if you're growing your hair out, it can sometimes seem like it's shedding more, but it isn't - it's just more noticeable because the shed hairs are longer. I rarely notice any shedding when my hair's chin-length, but once it gets past shoulder-length I seem to get shed hairs everywhere.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:11 AM on November 4, 2011

(I just want to emphasize that my hair is virtually identical to how it was before - the changes I describe are minute - I say this because I think that when I was shedding the worry just made things worse. Try not to worry too much - I really wish I hadn't wasted so much time fussing about it.)
posted by Frowner at 10:29 AM on November 4, 2011

Anecdotal evidence but I do 2 seasonal moults a year, it's a bit of a joke in my family. Spring and Fall I loose massive amounts of hair, I am talking handfuls in the drain every time I wash.

If the hair on your head isn't looking any thinner I would suggest that you are just doing something similar. Having said that if it is worrying you go see a doctor that's what I did the first time it happened to me and he said it was normal, just that I had thick hair so it was more obvious in the drain/hairbrush/floor/bed/on my clothes that I was moulting like a collie dog.

I just don't wash as much while its happening and treat myself to a conditioning treatment or 2 as the old hair falling out means new hairs are starting to grow so I like to give them a kick start. Funny thing is no matter how much hair it seems I am loosing the hair on my head never looks like its thinning or less healthy than normal.
posted by wwax at 11:46 AM on November 4, 2011

And one more - the whole experience actually made me less of a jerk about people's appearances. I had not considered myself vain or judgmental beforehand, but I realized as I went through all the hair loss anxiety (and the accompanying obsessive inspection of other women's hairlines...although I think I managed to do this discreetly)...anyway, I realized that I had semi-consciously blamed people for a lot of appearance things, or looked down on people for things that were totally outside their control (and not important anyway).

I used to have this whole "when I get old I will never [wear my hair like that, wear that kind of thing, dress that way]" narrative in my head. When I figured that I was going to have thin, patchy hair (and my hair is my only really good feature), it woke me up to how unconsciously snobbish I'd been.
posted by Frowner at 11:47 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had the same thing happen after a couple months of crazy stress. I know how weird and terrible it is! Here's what I did, and something worked because it stopped after way too many weeks (at least a couple months)-

more protein - a lot more, I am vegetarian also and was not getting enough
add vitamin d and calcium supplements
changed hair products - I went to Pureology, which is way too expensive and if you're not using color it's probably not something you need, but I'd take a look at what you're using anyway
when pulling back my hair, I pulled it back more loosely than normal and avoided clips that seemed especially tight

First thing I had the doctor do a ton of blood tests and he found nothing. And if it helps, most people (friends, family, hairdresser) I talked to about it really couldn't tell a difference, even though I was freaking with every few strands that just fell out.
posted by mrs. taters at 11:59 AM on November 4, 2011

A vote for "could be normal", which I hope will calm your nerves but not discourage you from checking with a doctor:

I also have thick, fine hair. When I was a kid it was thick to the point of being bushy; my mom told me it would get thinner when I became older. At several points over the years I've wondered if I was losing more hair than usual, but it was until sometime during college that I was certain it'd become thinner. I'm nearing 27, and it's now stabilized at a point well within the range of nice, normal hair; it's actually more manageable (and very similar to my mom's).
posted by ecsh at 12:20 PM on November 4, 2011

I have a very similar hair type to you, and I get stressed out about this a couple of times a year. I do think it can be seasonal. I have a great, regular hair stylist who I trust to tell me if I'm losing a lot, and I ask her pretty often. I also ask my wife, and she reminds me that I was asking the same thing a few months ago and still have the same amount I had then. I feel better sometimes when I have a slightly harsher color put on my hair, because it swells the strands and makes them thicker individually (I don't blow dry so I don't worry so much about the condition).

It's tough because it sort of is a real thing for many women. I'm 30 now and I think I do have less hair than I had in high school (not thin, not patchy, just... less), and my mother, who is 60, has nice hair, but it is not as thick as mine is or as thick as it was when she was younger.

But yes, ask your hair person, they see you at the right length of interval to judge this stuff, and they know about hair.
posted by crabintheocean at 1:29 PM on November 4, 2011

I was shedding what seemed like a significantly more-than-normal amount of hair when I was making the transition to living and working in Japan. It kind of freaked me out for a while, but it calmed down after a few months, and I feel like things are back to normal now. I think stress could very well be a trigger for hair shedding.
posted by that girl at 2:13 PM on November 4, 2011

Are you in the northern hemisphere? If so, it is autumn, and you may have encountered a surge of dry air in the last few weeks. That'd do it.

Use more conditioner.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:52 PM on November 4, 2011

I shed a huge amount of hair, like clumps in the shower drain, and sometimes clumps come out when I run my fingers through it. When I get my hair cut, the hairdresser remarks that I lose a lot of hair, and I am constantly shedding all over white coats and furniture that I sit on. Despite several years of this, I have no bald patches, and what you describe sounds like nothing to worry about. It's less hair than I lose on a daily basis, and I have more than enough left!

As an aside, I rarely brush my hair since it's curly, so I think I might shed so much when I run my hands through it because it doesn't get brushed out. I don't know for sure if that's why, but could that be a factor with you?
posted by queens86 at 10:05 PM on November 4, 2011

I always shed hairs, but in the past several years the amount really increased. I became convinced it was from being on nuvaring. Jury is still out on that though.
posted by abirdinthehand at 2:14 PM on November 6, 2011

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