Humans are unique in sporting a thick growth of hair localized to the scalp. Whatever protection from the elements this may have afforded our ancestors seems to have devolved into a concern related more to appearance than to function. In some cultures, great importance is attached to having a beautiful mane of hair, and much time and money may be spent on maintaining that.

To begin to understand hair loss, a few facts about hair growth: Each hair goes through a growing phase of several years (anagen) a resting phase of several months (catagen), and a shedding phase (telogen). Normally one loses 50 to 100 hairs daily.

A few extra hairs shed per day may cause alarm. The concern is that loss will be rapid and progressive, and lead to complete baldness. A visit to the dermatologist may quell concerns and present options for the treatment of hair loss.

The evaluation begins with the question, “Is the hair breaking or being shed?” Hair breakage typically comes from inappropriate use of chemicals, cosmetic products, or styles which involve traction (pulling).

Hair shedding, on the other hand, may denote a systemic process. Thyroid disease, anemia, medications, hormonal changes, low dietary protein, high fever, or surgery all may precipitate hair loss. A complete medical evaluation, with laboratory studies, by a dermatologist is needed.

Diseases of the scalp, such as lupus and alopecia areata, infections, or psoriasis may also cause hair loss. Evaluation and biopsy may disclose a treatable illness.

Hereditary thinning of the hair, or androgenetic alopecia, occurs in men and women. When it is identified as the cause of hair loss, several types of treatment may be appropriate.

In short, hair loss is a symptom which may stem from many causes. Evaluation may explain, and often permit, treatment of the loss.

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