To say that America suffers a hair loss challenge would not be an exaggeration if you consider that around 80 million people have some degree of hair loss by age 50. For most people (95%), hair loss is in the form of androgenetic alopecia, also known as pattern baldness.
What is androgenetic alopecia, and what causes it? What are the different types of hair loss? Is hair loss permanent or temporary? How effective are hair loss medications? If you are interested in answers to these questions and more, read on.
This article will also look at medical wigs and how they differ from regular wigs. We also find out whether your health insurance will pay for your medical wig or not and what you should do to ensure that you are paid if your plan covers them.
Causes of Hair Loss
Factors causing hair loss – also known as alopecia, the term that describes hair loss from the scalp or other body parts – are diverse. They include medication, genes, age, hair care, hormonal imbalances, and nutrition. Since nutrition and medications can play a significant role in hair loss, let’s look at the two in greater detail.
Research suggests that deficiency of certain micronutrients presents a risk factor as far as hair loss is concerned. Micronutrients play an important role in normal hair follicle development and immune cell function. Therefore, deficiency of nutrients such as proteins, vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and iron may exacerbate hair loss.
Medications that May Cause Alopecia
Several drugs affect the hair growth cycle. Chemotherapy drugs are perhaps the most well-known drugs that cause hair loss. Others include blood pressure medications, acne medications such as isotretinoin (Accutane), cholesterol-lowering drugs, immunosuppressants, antifungal drugs such as voriconazole anticoagulants (Heparin, warfarin, and others), and antidepressants such as sertraline (Zoloft) and fluoxetine (Prozac).
Effects of Hair Loss
Losing hair can affect the mental health of individuals and negatively impact the quality of their lives. Studies show that hair loss is a significant concern for everyone, irrespective of sex or age.
The medical news website, EveryDayHealth.com, cites the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery chairperson and hair transplant surgeon, Shelly Friedman, who says that “women associate their hair with their sexuality, sensuality, and beauty.” Friedman adds, “When a woman loses her hair or has thinning hair, she believes she is no longer attractive.”
The effects of hair loss are not felt by women only. Friedman notes that hair represents the quality of having energy, strength, and a strong sex drive for males. Thus, when men lose their hair, they start to believe that they are no longer as attractive or manly as those with full hair.
Types of Hair Loss
Ceratin kinds of hair loss are temporary, and hair can grow back after some time or after the condition causing them no longer exist. But others, such as pattern baldness in both men and women, are permanent.
Androgenetic alopecia is the clinical term that describes male and female pattern baldness and is the most common type of hair loss. This is primarily genetic and passed through family lines. Therefore, if someone in your family has experienced pattern baldness, there’s a good chance you may be next in line.
Even though the risk of androgenetic alopecia increases with age, the condition can begin during the teenage years. Men will tend to lose hair from the temples and crown of their heads. On the other hand, women will often experience thinning hair all over the head.
Since female pattern baldness mostly begins after menopause, medical experts indicate that it may have something to do with hormones.
Male and female pattern baldness, or hair loss due to aging and genetic factors, isn’t preventable. While specific individuals may prefer to let their hair loss run its course untreated and unhidden, others will pursue cosmetic solutions such as hairstyles, wigs, hats, or scarves.
Alopecia areata is a category of hair loss that affects about 2% of the US population at some point in their lives. It’s an autoimmune disorder that usually results in hair falling out in several small patches with a diameter of around 1 inch (2.5 cm).
The small patches may initially be unnoticeable but later connect to form pronounced hair loss on the scalp. This occurs when the immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign substances and attacks the patient’s hair follicles. It leads to loss of hair on the scalp and sometimes the face, including the eyebrows, eyelashes, and other body parts.
Telogen Effluvium is hair loss that occurs due to a triggering event or a shock to the system, such as an accident, a medical condition, surgery, sudden and drastic weight loss, or a psychologically-stressful event. Such an event affects the normal hair follicle growth cycle, leading to excessive shedding of the hair because it isn’t replaced quickly enough.
Telogen Effluvium is reversible in many cases, and the type of treatment will typically depend on the triggering event. If it were activated by surgery, for instance, the best treatment would be to let the hair follicles recover on their own.
How Effective Are Hair Loss Medications?
Very little can be done to prevent or control hair loss due to aging or genetic factors. However, some treatments produce positive results. They include products you apply to the scalp and other more invasive procedures that work to replace lost hair or restore natural hair growth.
Some treatments have shown promising results, as demonstrated by a 2013 study that concluded that low-level laser therapy could be used to promote hair growth. All the 41 patients in the study recorded a 39% increase in hair growth after the procedure.
Regarding hair loss due to Telogen Effluvium, the triggering factor is first identified, isolated, and then removed. If it is psychological stress, then the patient will be directed towards long-term stress reduction; if a blood test shows a dietary deficiency, then supplements can be administered, and so on.
In some cases, a dermatologist can prescribe a direct hair growth stimulator such as Rogaine and other creams available over the counter. These can be applied directly onto the scalp to spur hair regrowth.
Can Alopecia Areata Be Prevented Or Avoided?
According to medical experts, there’s still no known cure for alopecia areata. Still, some treatments can help hair grow back quicker and prevent future hair loss. However, the unpredictable nature of the condition means that there are often no guarantees. In some cases, people will have to find ways to cope with hair loss stress.
There are a variety of both over-the-counter and prescription medications for alopecia areata. They include topical agents such as creams, lotions, and ointments applied to the scalp to help stimulate hair growth. Others include steroid injections, which are commonly administered in cases of mild, patchy alopecia, and tablets, and immunosuppressants.
Some people opt for natural treatments such as aromatherapy, acupuncture, herbal supplements, essential oils, and anti-inflammatory diets. However, there are few clinical trials to back these treatments, so it’s still unknown whether they can treat alopecia.
The effects of each medication will vary from one person to the other, and you may have to try out several treatment options before seeing any positive results. For some people, hair may grow back on its own but still fall out later. It’s essential to speak to your doctor or a medical professional before attempting any medications or treatments.
Medical Wigs a Good Option for Alopecia
Many medical treatments (such as chemotherapy) only cause temporary hair loss. The standard treatment for such hair loss is to wear wigs. Therefore, the benefits of wearing wigs are more than cosmetic.
A study concluded that “Wigs… can improve quality of life (QOL) in patients with AA [alopecia areata] by enhancing their self-esteem and social adjustment.”
Medical wigs are often recommended as one of the treatment options for permanent hair loss, chemotherapy, or severe cases of alopecia areata. Research has shown that they help facilitate the social adjustment of patients as they cope with the conditions that lead to hair loss.
But how is a medical wig different from a fashion wig? Primarily, the difference is that the medical wig is made specifically for people living with conditions like cancer that can make the skin in their head too soft to handle a regular wig.
Check out the video below where Eva Lucarelli from the medical network NHC clarifies the difference between medical wigs and regular wigs.
Does Health Insurance Cover The Cost of Wigs?
Suppose you live with permanent or temporary loss of hair due to a medical condition such as chemotherapy. In that case, your dermatologist can prescribe a medical wig. Such a wig is considered a prosthesis and a vital part of the treatment.
Depending on your insurance plan, you may be eligible for an insurance cover. The majority of insurance companies will cover part of the entire cost of your medical wig in the event of medically-induced alopecia. To benefit from your health insurance when purchasing a medical wig, BreastCancer.org advises that “Before purchasing a wig, call your health insurance company and ask if they will cover a ‘cranial prosthesis’ for hair loss related to chemotherapy or radiation therapy.”