Hairs in the Drain or on Your Pillow? How to Tell If You’re Going Bald
Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNPWritten by Our Editorial TeamLast updated 5/5/2020
When you look at yourself in the mirror every day, it's easy to miss subtle changes in your appearance such as thinning hair around your temples or a receding hairline. Though these small changes may evade you, finding a clump of hair on your pillow will definitely make you sit up and take notice.
A few hairs on your pillow or in the shower drain may be nothing to worry about, but how much hair loss is too much? How do you know if your hair loss is normal or if you’re starting to go bald? If you are concerned about your hair loss, take the time to learn the basics about hair loss to determine whether it’s really a cause for concern.
Understanding the Hair Growth Cycle
The average person has somewhere in the realm of 100,000 hairs on their head, though this number varies to some degree depending on your natural hair color. At any time, each of those hairs is in one of three cycles of growth.
The first of these is the anagen, or growing phase. This phase lasts anywhere from two to seven years – the length of time each hair spends in this phase is largely determined by your genetics and about 85% of the hairs on your head are in this phase at any given time.
The second phase of hair growth is the catagen, or regression phase. This stage of the hair growth cycle lasts about ten days during which the follicle begins to shrink and eventually detaches from the dermal papilla, the connective tissue at the base of each hair follicle.
Once the follicle has detached, the hair enters the third phase, the telogen or resting phase. This phase lasts about three months, at the end of which the hair is shed to make room for new growth.
What Are the Risk Factors for Hair Loss?
Hair loss affects both men and women and there are a number of different types of hair loss. Androgenic alopecia, also known as male pattern or female pattern baldness, is the most common kind of hair loss and it affects men at a higher rate than women.
Though genetics are the primary risk factor for androgenic alopecia, there are other types of hair loss which have risk factors of their own. Alopecia areata, for example, is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing sudden hair loss in round patches. The exact cause for this condition is unknown but research suggests that individuals with a family history of this or other autoimmune diseases may increase your risk.
Telogen effluvium, the second most common type of hair loss, is commonly brought on by severe stress or illness. It may also be triggered by sudden changes in weight, physical trauma, or crash dieting. Other potential risk factors for various forms of hair loss include hormonal changes, scalp infections, skin disorders, age, poor nutrition, and taking certain medications. For example, blood thinners, beta blockers and ACE inhibitors can all trigger hair loss.
Do You Have Any of the Top Signs of Hair Loss?
In many cases, hair loss occurs slowly over an extended period of time, so you may not even notice that it is happening. In fact, it is entirely normal to shed as many as 50 to 100 hairs every day. How do you know, then, whether your hair loss is normal or if you should be concerned? Here are some of the top signs of hair loss to be on the lookout for:
A receding hairline or widow’s peak. Hair loss for men often begins with a gradual thinning of the hair on top of the head, receding from the forehead in an M-shaped line.
Overall thinning of the hair. Thinning hair usually occurs all over the head – it may be more noticeable if you part your hair and look for a widening of the gap between the hairs. This type of hair loss may lead to eventual baldness.
Round or patchy bald spots. Frequently a sign of alopecia areata, round patches of hair loss may appear anywhere on the head but it only leads to the entire loss of hair from the scalp in 1% to 2% of cases.
Sudden loosening of hair. This type of hair loss is often triggered by emotional or physical shock and it usually results in all over thinning, not baldness. You may notice handfuls of hair coming out when you wash or style your hair.
If you notice any of the signs listed above, you may be experiencing hair loss at a rate faster than normal but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to go bald. Some hair loss conditions only cause the hair to thin while others lead to small bald patches.
To confirm your suspicions of hair loss, find a picture of yourself from a year or more ago and make a comparison. Is your forehead more pronounced now than it was then? Is the hair around your ears a little bit thinner? Have you started to develop a bald spot on the top of your head?
Before you become too concerned about any of these signs of hair loss, understand that your condition is treatable! The treatment you choose may depend on the type and severity of the hair loss you are experiencing, so your best bet is to consult your physician for a second opinion. Once your diagnosis has been confirmed, the two of you can work together to develop a treatment plan.
Avoid the temptation to self-medicate with over-the-counter hair loss remedies because many of these are ineffective and could actually make your problem worse. There are only two hair loss treatments that have been proven to work and that are FDA approved – finasteride and minoxidil. With the help of your doctor, you can get started on the right path to slow or stop your hair loss - you may even be able to regrow some of the hair you’ve lost!
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.