Hair loss is something that happens to us. Be it a side effect of chemotherapy, a thyroid disorder, a hormone imbalance, or our immune system’s decision to attack our hair follicles, hair loss happens outside of our control. What about hair pulling?
I’m talking about trichotillomania (trich for short), an impulse disorder in which affected people develop an uncontrollable habit of pulling out the hair from their scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, pubic area, underarms, beard, chest, legs, arms…. You name it. If it’s a body part with hair, it’s game for hair pulling. So why don’t they just stop pulling? Surely this is one cause of hair loss that doesn’t just happen to us. Clearly we have a choice, right?
Have you ever known a serious nail biter? I’m talking about the biter whose nails have been bitten down so short that their fingers are raw, red and inflamed? And yet there they are, biting away at the slight sliver of nail that remains. They are often embarrassed by the way their embattled nails look but just can’t stop.
For some people, at some times, trich can be controlled with a bit of extra awareness and concentration, according to the Trichotillomania Learning Center’s (TLC) website. For others, the urge is so strong and yet unconscious, that they cannot control it and are often not conscious they are pulling. According to the TLC, trich affects about 2-4 percent of the population.
There is some promising research for those who suffer from trich. In a small study, researchers found that participants who took an antioxidant called N-acetylcysteine, sold over the counter, had significant improvement over patients who took placebos. Since then, N-acetylcysteine has reportedly been shown to affect glutamate, a chemical messenger in the brain that researchers believe is involved in compulsive repetitive behaviors. Other research coming out of Duke University has uncovered a genetic mutation that is common to an estimated 5 percent of those who suffer from trich.
While researchers will hopefully and almost certainly continue making progress on finding ways to address trich, the main treatment and control options are currently anxiety meds, behavioral therapy, or a combination.
My heart really goes out to those who suffer from trich. As an Alopecian, I know how devastating it is to lose your hair. I cannot imagine how painful it would be to cause my own hair loss, feel the daily devastation that comes with hair loss, and yet be unable to stop myself from pulling it out. Here is a link to just one little girl’s touching story, which she is sharing on YouTube. Her name is Audrey. You’re so right, Audrey, you and we are not alone.
Do you or have you ever pulled your hair? Do you know anyone with trich?
Susan Beausang, 4Women.com