While some hair loss in children is normal, those who are losing excessive amounts of hair may have a health condition. The most common hair condition is Alopecia. Hair loss isn’t just a problem for adults. Hair loss in children is responsible for a 3% of pediatric office visits in the U.S. But what causes Alopecia in children and how can we treat it? Read more about this in our article.
What is Alopecia?
Alopecia areata is a autoimmune disease that causes hair loss in small, disk shaped patches. The hair loss can occur anywhere on the body. It may involve the scalp hair or hair of eyebrows, eyelashes, and also arms and legs. The hair loss may occur spontaneously, and the hair may regrow if the inflammation subsides. If the alopecia covers the entire scalp it is called alopecia totalis. If it spreads to the rest of the body including eyebrows, lashes, beard, and pubic hair it is called alopecia universalis. In men, if the alopecia appears only in the area of the beard than they most likely have alopecia barbae.
There is also an other type called Traction Alopecia. This one is caused over time by constant pulling on hair roots. Hairstyles that cause tension on the hair follicles such as tight braids, or “corn rows,” often cause this condition. It may also be caused by chemical straightening or weaving. Alopecia is often mistakenly attributed to stress, though there is no evidence that shows this to be the case.
What causes Alopecia in children?
While it’s rare in children younger than 18 months, Alopecia is most likely to start in childhood and can happen at any age. If your baby has this condition, his immune system will attack his hair follicles as if to protect his body from an illness. This attack shrinks the follicles, which then produce hair so slowly that no hair is visible for months or years. However, it isn’t painful, and it doesn’t mean that your baby is unhealthy. Your baby may lose hair in just a few patches on his head, or his entire scalp may become bald. Rarely, all of the hair on the body falls out. In all but extreme cases, children with alopecia areata almost always recover at least some of their hair.
Researchers don’t know what causes alopecia areata, but genetics play a role. One in five people with the disorder has a family member who has it, too. It ‘s also more common in families with a history of asthma, hay fever, atopic eczema, childhood diabetes, or other autoimmune diseases.
If your baby is less than 6 months old and is losing his hair, this is most likely not due to alopecia in children. In fact, it’s quite normal for babies to lose their hair at this age for a variety of harmless reasons. However, If your baby is older than 6 months and is losing clumps of hair or you notice oval bald patches on the head, the problem may be alopecia areata.
NOTE that if the bald spots on your toddler ‘s head are flaky or crusty, your baby may have ringworm instead. Check your baby ‘s fingernails, they may have what look like rows of tiny dents.
Treatment of Alopecia in children
There’s no cure for alopecia itself, but there are treatments for what causes alopecia. Medications are available to help keep the immune system in check, regrow hair, and prevent hair loss as much as possible. These are most effective in mild cases of the disorder. Although, hair loss due to alopecia areata can be temporary — in many cases, the hair eventually grows back. But the condition can go on for years before this happens, and once regrowth begins, hair may initially come in with a different color or texture than the original hair. Also, a person may experience more episodes of hair loss later on — another frustrating aspect of alopecia areata.
Because of concerns about the side effects of treatment, the dermatologist may hesitate to treat children younger than 18 months for this condition.
Once your child is a little older, the doctor may want to treat him/her with topical cortisone or other creams. The specific treatment will depend on how extensive the condition is. Talk with the dermatologist about the pros and cons of the treatments available.