Hair Diseases

Dermatologist checking hair for diseases
Photo: Shutterstock
Diseases of the hair, far from being a popular topic of conversation, are somewhat neglected, compared to the excessive amount of research and literature dedicated to many other equally undesirable conditions, leaving sufferers uninformed and bemused about what steps to take to help eradicate the problem.
Our hair, like our eyes and our smile, is one of the most first features people notice about each other, which helps us to form those valuable first impressions about other people. Having hair which is full of life, vitality and health is therefore an attribute desired by most, and one which is heavily hampered by hair and scalp diseases which cause hair to become dry, brittle and lusterless.
Because of the unhealthiness and subsequent “unattractiveness” hair diseases cause, shorter hairstyles are often more suitable for patients experiencing diseases of the hair.
Hair diseases come in many different forms, all of which have different symptoms and varying degrees of severity. Below is an outline of the most common hair diseases and conditions.
Hair Shaft Abnormalities
With the elements the weather, lifestyle and pollution have to offer, a certain number of breakages on our hair is expected and are completely normal. People experiencing excessively unusual amounts of hair breakage may have an abnormality within the hair shafts.
Exceptionally fragile hair and changes in density, color and length, is one of the first signs that a hair shaft abnormality may be manifesting, although without a microscopic examination or polar light microscopy of the actual hair shafts, together with a structured history and a physical examination of the patient, a diagnosis is rarely obtainable.
Trichorrhexis Nodosa
Trichorrhexis Nodosa is one of the most common of hair diseases as it is one of the most frequent causes of hair shaft abnormalities. Trichorrhexis Nodosa usually occurs after extensive and excessive trauma is placed on the hair, which causes node like swellings to form on the shaft, which causes the hair to break easily.
While some experts assert that genetic factors may influence the onset of this hair disease, it is more commonly associated with environmental factors, such as excessive exposure to chemicals and aggressive brushing and blow drying.
Less commonly trichorrhexis nodosa can be caused by other underlying conditions such as hypothyroidism, Netherton’s syndrome and Menkes syndrome. Symptoms include patchy hair, a discoloration at the tip, breakages close to the scalp, and an apparent lack of re-growth.
Like with many undesirable hair conditions, prevention is always better than cure and trichorrhexis nodosa can be readily avoided by practicing ‘kinder’ and more gentle routines to the hair. Similarly, while there is no actual ‘cure’ for this hair disease, avoiding chemicals, harsh shampoos and excessive styling and brushing over a prolonged period of time will improve the severity of the disease and the condition of the hair.
Loose Anagen Syndrome
Primarily loose anagen syndrome affects children with fair hair. This hair disease was first described in 1984 and is characterized by anagen hairs of abnormal morphology, which become loose and are easily dislodged from the scalp, causing the hair to become excessively thin and rarely grow beyond the nape of the neck.
Loose anagen syndrome typically affects white females who are aged 2 – 5 and have blonde hair, although a small number of cases have been reported of the disease affecting both boys and adults with darker hair. The condition is usually detected by parents who notice their child’s hair is falling out painlessly, is dry, brittle and unmanageable, and rarely needs cutting.
Unlike other hair diseases, with loose anagen syndrome the hair is not fragile or easily breakable, but rather just falls away in large clumps. A physical examination will reveal that there is no scarring or inflammation of the scalp present in patients suffering from loose anagen syndrome.
The causes of the disease are believed to be mostly hereditary, although the condition has also been associated with other diseases, including Noonan syndrome, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, woolly hair and nail-patella syndrome. Treatment of this hair disease usually consists of applying minoxidil lotion to the scalp.