Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/8/2021
No one wants to lose their hair. And if you suspect your hair is thinning, it could send you into a panic. Searching the internet for hair loss signs and symptoms is one way to confirm your suspicions, but talking with a doctor or dermatologist may be a quicker route to treatment and prevention.
That said, there are some common signs that you’re in the beginning stages of male pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia. And confirming that may motivate you to seek help.
A quick sidebar: Hair loss often is a symptom in itself, indicating something else is going on. For example, hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy or can be an indication of some kind of scalp infection. As you’re coming to terms with your thinning hair, be aware that your hair loss could be a sign of something other than male pattern baldness, and keep an eye out for additional symptoms on your skin, body, and scalp.
Probably the worst part about losing your hair is the fact that there are so many different causes of hair loss, several different types of hair loss and several signs and symptoms of hair loss that you need to be aware of.
Why? Because, just like there are different types of hair loss, there are different types of treatment for hair loss. What helps treat one form may be completely ineffective in treating another. And one symptom of hair loss may be indicative of one type of hair loss and not another.
The process of diagnosing and treating hair loss can be — and this is putting it gently — confusing as hell. However, here are some of the more signs and symptoms of hair loss:
If you part your hair, one of the first signs of hair loss you might notice is your part getting wider. This is particularly true at the crown of your head, or the very top, where the back of your part is. You may notice your part appears normal at the front of your head (assuming you don’t part it at the temples), and gets wider towards the back.
Male pattern baldness follows a typical pattern, hence the name. And the hair line near your temples is often where you’ll first notice you’re losing your hair. Hair loss at the temples (or bitemporal hair loss) begins at the temples and extends backwards across the scalp. So while it may seem like the hair is just getting thinner there, with time that thinning hair will spread.
The other common place to notice hair thinning in androgenetic alopecia is at the crown, or the top of your head. Known as the vertex scalp, hair loss here generally spreads outward in a circular fashion, ultimately creating a bald spot.
You may notice that the hair that was once on your head is replaced with smaller, finer, pale hairs. These are known as vellus hairs, and are the result of follicle miniaturization. They also lack the pigment of normal hair, so they are lighter. It’s difficult to see the top of your head, or even see these tiny hairs near the front of your hair line, but if you’re noticing hair thinning, there’s a good chance vellus hairs are present.
When you shed hair, it is generally replaced with hair that grows to similar length (hair cuts notwithstanding, of course). But if you’re dealing with male pattern baldness, those replacement hairs aren’t likely to reach the length your hair once did. In fact, they’re typically so short, they don’t breach the scalp, meaning you won’t see them at all.
If you’re noticing hair loss on your entire body, you may be experiencing something other than androgenic alopecia. Hair loss can also be a sign of a drug reaction, bacterial or fungal infections, or trauma, among other things. A dermatologist can help evaluate the totality of your symptoms, in this case, and best direct a proper treatment plan.
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There are two common medical treatments for male pattern baldness: finasteride and minoxidil. Both of these options are approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, as treatment for hair loss.
Minoxidil is an over-the-counter topical formula generally applied to the scalp twice daily. An estimated 30-40% of people who use it experience “significant hair growth.” However, once treatment is stopped, the hair loss cycle resumes, so consistency is important.
Finasteride, on the other hand, is an oral medication known as a type II alpha-reductase inhibitor, which works by stopping the conversion of testosterone to DHT, or a hormone that leads to hair loss. This prescription drug does have side effects (including potential loss of libido), but long-term use generally has positive results.
There are many reasons you could be experiencing hair loss, and while androgenic alopecia is the most common type, that doesn’t mean it’s the cause of your hair loss symptoms. In fact, hair loss itself can be a symptoms of something else entirely.
For example, hair loss known as alopecia areata is an immune disease where your body attacks hair follicles much in the way it attacks a virus or illness. Infections such as tinea capitis and kerion can also cause hair loss.
Extreme stress or trauma can cause a type of hair loss known as telogen effluvium. Serious illness with a fever, surgery, hormonal fluctuations, thyroid disease, nutritional deficiencies caused by poor diet and other medical conditions can cause telogen effluvium.
One of the less common (but not unheard of!) types of hair loss in men, is known as traction alopecia, or the consistent pulling of hair, and may be marked by patchy hair loss or losing patches of hair that are under tension.
Friction, poisoning and even sexually transmitted infections may cause hair loss. So if you’re at all unsure of what’s going on with your thinning hair, ask a medical professional.
Recognizing that you’re suffering from hair loss can be a blow — it means you’re aging and won’t always have that youthful or head of hair. It may be the precursor to seeing wrinkles on your skin and forgetting people’s names. But there are treatments available that may slow or even stop this gradual thinning of hair. The key is starting them early. So, if you’ve started seeing the signs and symptoms of balding, talk with someone about hair loss treatments and prevention options soon, and rule out any serious causes for your loss of hair other than androgenic alopecia.