Traction Alopecia

Hair loss is a daunting nightmare for every person out there, especially because of the reason that it is largely caused due to improper hair trying techniques and hairstyles. A majority of people across the globe are suffering from uncommon hair loss due to unreasonable pulling of hair. The medical term for this condition is Alopecia. Alopecia infers hair loss.

Traction alopecia is a result of continuous pulling on your hair causing hair loss. This condition develops as a result of different hairstyles like – wearing the hair in a forced pony, a tight bun or tight braids. This situation is exaggerated if chemicals and heat are also used on hair. People who have long hair have a higher incidence rate of traction alopecia due to an increased and continuous amount of friction caused by their own hair’s weight. Traction alopecia can be reversed provided the pulling on hair stops. But if measures are not taken to protect the hair soon enough, hair loss can be permanent.

Causative Conditions Leading to Traction Alopecia

Traction alopecia develops when hair is tied too tight. This constant pull on the hair loosens the hair shaft in the hair follicle.

  • Situations that cause repeated pulling over hair include:
  • Pulling the hair in a taut ponytail or bun.
  • Wearing hair in tight braids.
  • Styling the hair in cornrows or dreadlocks
  • Using hair extensions and hair weaves regularly for styling your hair.
  • Keeping the hair in hair rollers overnight.

People who have long hair can also suffer from traction alopecia. This is because of the constant pulling effect over the scalp which is due to the weight of the hair itself.

This condition does not exclusively affect women because of their hairstyles or just because they have long hair. Men can also suffer from traction alopecia. This can occur if the hair in their beard is twisted too tightly.

Traction alopecia commonly affects women of African-American origin. However, people of any ethnicity can suffer from this condition. This situation tends to affect people who frequently put their hair under a lot of stress such as putting them in a forced bun for longer periods like ballerinas and gymnasts.

Traction alopecia is not age-specific. It can affect people from any age group. Although it’s more likely to involve people who are older as the hair follicles become more damaged as it is kept under pulling force for extended periods. Traction alopecia can similarly happen in pets too. Putting hair clips in your dog’s fur for longer periods or letting the fur to set in dreadlocks can weaken and hurt the follicles of their gorgeous hair resulting in severe pulling and hair loss.

What are the Symptoms Seen in Traction Alopecia?

In the initial stages, traction alopecia may appear as tiny bulges on your scalp. These bulges might appear like pimples to you. As the disease advances, the major indication is damaged hair and ultimately the loss of hair. The hair in the front and side region of your scalp are most frequently affected. Yet, loss of hair in other regions of your scalp can also be noticed. It always depends on what hairstyle you are using.

Although hair loss is the no. 1 symptom for traction alopecia , it can also result in other visible signs and symptoms. These include redness on the scalp due to irritation. Tiny bumps on the scalp are seen initially. The scalp would feel sore constantly. There would be steady stinging of scalp along with lots of itching.

Scaling and flaking of scalp is also quite apparent in traction alopecia. Follicular inflammation commonly regarded as folliculitis is also a major sign of traction alopecia. Ultimately, the hair follicles are damaged to a degree that they cannot even give rise to new and healthy hair strands.

The symptoms of traction alopecia shouldn’t be confused with other forms of alopecia. One of the major differences between traction alopecia and other forms of alopecia is the site. In other types of alopecia, loss of hair is observed all over the scalp spanning across different regions whereas in traction alopecia only the hair follicles that are undergoing a constant pulling force are affected.

Two major criteria are used to classify traction alopecia. They are – the severity of the traction alopecia and the amount of hair a person has already lost. Based on these criteria, two kinds of traction alopecia are seen commonly nowadays. They are–

  • The acute form of Traction Alopecia is seen in cases when the hair follicles are pulled out abruptly following any traumatic injury. A major example of this is a major car or bike accident. It generates symptoms similar to a disorder named hair pulling disorder.
  • The chronic form of traction alopecia is inflicted due to continuous pulling force on hair follicles due to specific hairdos such as cornrows, tight braiding, dreadlocks, tight buns, and tight ponytails or trying your hair using elastic or rubber hair ties. This form of traction alopecia can be further divided into reversible and irreversible forms based on the extent of hair damage caused by styling.

Diagnosis of traction alopecia

Traction alopecia in earlier stages, presents as small white bumps that are flesh colored usually present around the hair follicles. These occur in the areas where the hair is pulled more tightly. Subsequently, hair loss occurs symmetrically. The hair loss is most apparent around the hairline. Throughout the region of hair loss, broken hair is present. Baby hairs or values are skimped on.

The diagnosis of this condition is done based on clinical presentation. Examination of hair in the proximity of the affected area is done under the microscope. This might indicate breakage. This breakage is most prominent if a hair straightening product is under regular use.

The diagnosis is usually established on the record of history and  pattern of the hair loss. If the diagnosis is still ambiguous then a scalp biopsy is required.This scalp biopsy is performed by a dermatologist.

Treatment Options Available for Traction Alopecia

It is never too late to treat traction alopecia. A board certified dermatologist can diagnose and treat traction alopecia.The earlier you realize what’s causing your hair loss and take appropriate measures to prevent it, the better your results are. He will first examine your scalp and hair. A sample of tissue might also be taken to look for other potential causes of hair loss. This is called a biopsy.

The primary treatment for traction alopecia is changing how you wear your hair. Changing your hairstyle is very helpful. The dermatologist would advise you not to wear your hair in a forced bun or ponytail, particularly at night. If the hair is too tight it will hurt your hair. You will be able to feel that in your hair roots. Get rid of any sort of dreadlocks, cornrows or braids you have. Loosen up your hair and wear your hair in such a way that it puts less stress and causes the least amount of pulling in your hair.

If the length of your hair is too long cut them short. Stop using any chemicals which might harm your hair. Minimize the use of heat for styling your hair.

The doctor might also prescribe certain medications to treat the condition. These might include some antibiotics to avoid any infection which might have grown in the open sores. Your doctor may also write some topical steroids to calm the inflammation and swelling on your scalp. You may also want to use antifungal shampoos. Minoxidil is a commonly prescribed drug that is applied topically in order to stimulate the growth of healthy hair. Hair growth supplements such as biotin which are also effective in strengthening hair are also prescribed.

Preventive Measures for Traction Alopecia

The primary prevention of traction alopecia is based on loosening the hair and wearing them down. Even if you need to tie the hair up, tie them in a loose ponytail or a bun and keep it down. This is to prevent the hair from any additional force and friction. Some additional measures which can be looked upon to prevent yourself from developing traction alopecia are:

  • Try changing your hairstyle from time to time. You can also alternate between braiding your hair and wearing them down.
  • If you need to carry your hair in a ponytail, try to keep it loose. Don’t use rubber or elastic bands to tie your hair. These bands can apply a constant pulling force on your hair.
  • If you are fond of using weaves or regularly braiding your hair avoid getting any sort of chemical process or heat treatments to your hair. These chemicals can cause irreversible damage to your hair and can make them more prone to breakage.
  • Do not use weaves and extensions for extended periods of time. Take a pause between every use.
  • Keep the setting on your hair dryer or straightener at low heat.
  • Do not sleep with hair rollers. if you want to have dreadlocks keep them in thicker braids. Use of hair relaxers should be avoided.
  • If you need to use a wig, use those with the satin hair cap.

Traction alopecia is a disorder that can be reversed, provided you pay immediate attention to it and deal with it instantly. If you avoid tying your hair tightly on a regular basis, the growth pattern of your hair will return back to normal typically. but if hair styling becomes a habit for you, then the resulting hair loss can be permanent.

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