TRICHOTILLOMANIA, THE COMPULSION TO PULL HAIR OUT FROM THE HEAD OR BODY, IS SO STRONG THAT IT GOES FAR BEYOND JUST A “HABIT.”
There aren’t many statistics on trichotillomania (TTM). According to the Trichotillomania Learning Center (TLC) it’s pronounced: trik- oh-till-oh-may-nee-ah or “trich” for short and it’s a very “not out in the open” disease. “Many times,” says Jeanne Sheldon, owner of Allusions Hair Restoration Studio in Cincinnati, OH, who sees many clients with this condition, “people won’t even come in for help because they don’t want anyone to know.” Trichotillomania is a compulsion to pull out hairs and can affect any head, facial, or body hair resulting in noticeable bald patches and serious hair loss in severe cases.
Who suffers from trichotillomania ?
According to the TLC, this behavior affects approximately one in 50 people and that 90% of those with trichotillomania are women, but the research is inconclusive as to why that is. One opinion is that men are less likely to seek treatment, and symptoms are less noticeable. TTM seems to strike young in the pre- or early adolescent years and a typical first-time hair-puller is around the age of 12, although TTM can affect people of all ages. This condition can be especially frustrating for parents whose children pull their hair because parents don’t understand why anyone would do it or why they can’t stop.
But trichotillomania isn’t just an ordinary habit that a person can easily stop. (What habit is?) It’s a medical condition and experts now think that behaviors like hair pulling may be caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals. The compulsion for hair pulling varies in severity, location, and response to treatment from person to person. For some people, at some times, trichotillomania is mild and can be controlled through self-awareness and willpower. For others, at times, the urge is unavoidable. Experts say trichotillomania occurs in happy, well-adjusted people as often as it occurs during times of anxiety, stress, trauma or other emotional disturbance. Hair pulling alone is not evidence of emotional disturbance or abuse, but it does not exclude these problems either. Depression is very common in people with TTM and should always be screened for as part of a treatment by your doctor.
What can a hair replacement specialist do about TTM?
Jeanne Sheldon says, “For starters you can find acceptance at a professional and compassionate studio. We don’t make value judgments as to the reason of your hair loss. We just try to make you feel better about it. We can help cover it up and sometimes that brings about improvement in the condition.” But sometimes it doesn’t, she explains, and some patients have been known to pull on their hair replacements, too.
Also, if you’re not sure why you’re losing your hair, a hair replacement specialist can help confirm the reason along with diagnosis from your doctor. “We are trained to feel for trichotillomania and we suspect this disease when we feel stubble in the bald spots,” she explains. “Alopecia areata bald patches feel smooth and so do pattern baldness spots, while trichotillomania patches have stubbly hair re-growth.” A specialist will verify by looking through a scope to confirm hair growth and you should go to your primary care physician for an accurate diagnosis. “The stubble is encouraging in itself which shows that the condition can be overcome and in most cases your hair will grow back!” A hair replacement specialist can provide a solution that covers just the bald patch seamlessly or they can provide for whole head protection and beautiful, natural-looking coverage with a full head wig.
What treatments are available for trichotillomania?
Research into treatments for trichotillomania has expanded as awareness has grown over the years. Although no one treatment is effective for everyone, a number of treatment options have shown promise. Children and adolescents, in particular, have different needs than adults. You may need to experiment with different combinations of treatments, medications, and tools to find what works for you. Check out www.trich.org because the TLC will make free referrals to treatment practitioners and support groups and also provide a thorough explanation of the well-documented methods of reducing hair pulling.
According to the TLC, in addition to medical treatment, many patients find some relief through dietary changes, meditation, hypnosis, prayer, yoga, and herbal remedies. Because we still do not have all the answers about trichotillomania and its treatment, the TLC works to provide information about additional ideas that may be useful to you.