I need to disclose right up front that I am not a doctor. I am a woman who has had telogen effluvium (TE) or chronic telogen effluvium (CTE) off and on during several periods of my life. I have spent thousands of hours on hair loss research, spent tons of time and money on many products, and have consulted with many doctors. I consider myself a bit of a women’s hair loss expert simply because of my own experiences which required loads of research and asking lots of questions.
This FAQ listed are the questions for which I was trying to find answers when my shedding started. The questions and answers are my opinions, based on my experiences. Of course, my advice is no substitution for your doctor’s. I am just sharing my own experiences. These are what I believe are the top five questions. I did not want to make this article too long, so I will go over more questions in part two of this article.
1. What is telogen effluvium or TE?: Technically, it is any time you are losing more than 100 hairs per day on a consistent basis, but I can not stress enough that you should not count hairs. (Although I know many people in TE do this). Once you have counted and seen over 100 hairs sitting in your drain, brush or trash can, you then know what it looks like and you do not need to repeat the process. There is absolutely no reason to drive yourself crazy and make yourself more upset by counting hairs. Basically, if you are shedding, you will know. Hair will be everywhere and raining down on you pretty much all day. It’s pretty hard to miss.
2. What causes it? Although most literature will say it is caused by childbirth, going on and off of birth control pills, surgery, illness or stress, I’ve found through my research there are really many reasons. Many women are very hormonally vulnerable to change, so any thing that shifts your body even slightly (weather changes which cause thyroid shifts, stress which causes the adrenals to work extra hard, seemingly innocent medications or supplements that alter your body chemistry or hormones, etc) can also bring on a shed.
3. How long will it last?: This is the million dollar question. I have had TEs that only lasted a few weeks, and I have had CTE which has lasted several months to a year. Sometimes, shedding just has to run it’s course. But sometimes, I think it is possible to prolong TE by experimenting with different treatments or medications that continue to throw your body off. Occasionally, shortening or halting the shedding is as simple as determining you’re low on iron or have hypothyroidism, but most often, no cause can be found. The good news is if your hair loss is indeed TE, it will eventually stop. The best advice that I can give for shedding that doesn’t stop is to rule out medical conditions via blood work (iron, thyroid, adrenals, sex hormones like DHEA and cortisol), but if the blood work shows no medical problem, try not to not obsess over when the shedding will end. (I know how hard this is). Even CTE usually always ends, but stressing excessively over it might prolong your shedding so it’s very important not to do this.
4. Does a white bulb on the end of my hair shaft mean it’s definitely TE? Sometimes but not necessarily. Basically all the white bulb means is that the hair came out because the follicle came to the end of it’s life cycle and was pushed out (as opposed to being pulled out). If you pull out one of your hairs, you’ll notice a dark root with a shield on it. A white bulb just means the hair wasn’t pulled out. People who are losing hair due to medical reasons or even AGA (genetic patterned hair loss) also have the white bulb.
5. Why do I feel a tingling in my head or scalp pain during TE or CTE? This tingling or slight pain is very common but no one seems to know what it is. There have even been medical tests attempting to determine the cause of it but the tests showed no difference in TE scalps and normal scalps. Insensitive doctors will sometimes tell you that you are feeling pain or tingling because you are thinking about your hair so much or because you are so upset over your hair loss. I don’t buy this. Too many people experience this tingling or pain for it to be fluke or merely psychological. My theory is that the process of TE causes inflammation in the follicles (especially because so many are altered during the shedding). That’s why you’ll sometimes notice your scalp is pink or looks inflamed during this process. There are actually some decent shampoos and topicals available that can cut this process a little bit. For immediate relief, try dropping a little emu oil on the area that hurts.
I hope this has helped some. I will go over more FAQs in part two, coming soon.