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Rapid Hair Loss: Causes and Treatment

Vicky Davis, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 5/9/2021

It’s normal to shed a small amount of hair every day — a fact that’s obvious every time you pull hairs out of your hairbrush or off your pillowcase. 

Most hair shedding is a natural effect of your hair growth cycle. As hairs reach their full length, the hair detaches from the follicle, resulting in about 50 to 100 healthy, normal hairs falling out from your scalp every day.

However, while some hair shedding is normal, losing a lot of hair in a short period of time can often signal that something isn’t right.

From hormonal fluctuations to injuries, illnesses and even fungal infections, a variety of factors may cause you to rapidly lose hair without much in the way of warning.

Losing hair rapidly can have a major effect on your appearance and self-esteem. Luckily, almost all forms of rapid hair loss can be reversed by identifying the underlying cause and acting swiftly to treat it. 

Below, we’ve explained what can cause rapid hair loss, as well as the symptoms you may notice if you’re shedding hair. We’ve also covered what you can do to treat hair shedding and promote healthy, sustainable hair regrowth. 

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What Causes Rapid Hair Loss?

Most of the time, rapid hair loss is the result of telogen effluvium — a form of hair shedding that’s linked to a sudden shock or change in your body.

Unlike female pattern hair loss, telogen effluvium isn’t permanent and doesn’t cause any lasting damage to your hair follicles. Instead, it occurs when your hairs suddenly enter into the telogen, or resting, phase of the hair growth cycle.

A variety of different events, stressors and other factors can cause telogen effluvium:

  • Illness. This type of hair shedding often develops after an illness, especially if the illness causes a high fever.

  • Rapid weight loss. You may develop telogen effluvium after a crash diet, particularly if your diet is or was low in protein.

  • Medication use. Some medications, including beta-blockers, anticoagulants, retinoids, thyroid medications, anticonvulsant and immunizations, may cause telogen effluvium.

  • Severe or chronic stress. Stress, whether sudden and abrupt or chronic, often causes telogen effluvium to develop.

  • Surgery. This form of hair shedding often develops after surgery, including after you are recovered from a surgical procedure.

  • Nutritional deficiencies. Iron deficiency and other nutritional deficiencies may result in telogen effluvium hair shedding.

  • Sudden changes in your hormone levels. These may occur naturally, such as during pregnancy, or after stopping hormonal medications like the birth control pill.

  • Giving birth. Telogen effluvium often occurs after giving birth — an issue that’s referred to as postpartum hair loss

It’s normal for hair shedding to start between one and six months after the causative event. For example, you may notice large amounts of your hair suddenly falling out a few months after you undergo surgery or recover from a severe, fever-causing illness.

This delay in hair loss occurs as a result of your hair growth cycle. After entering into the telogen phase, your hairs may stop growing for several months. After this period, the hairs detach from the follicle and shed rapidly.

Although telogen effluvium is a common form of rapid hair loss, other issues can also cause you to rapidly shed hair:

  • Traction alopecia. This is a form of hair loss that develops due to pressure on the roots of your hair. You may be at risk of this form of hair loss if you wear your hair in braids, a tight ponytail or other tight, pulled-back hairstyles.

  • Alopecia areata. This is a form of autoimmune hair loss that can cause you to lose hair in small, coin-sized patches. You may be at risk of this form of hair loss if you have an autoimmune disorder such as allergic asthma, vitiligo, lupus or atopic dermatitis.

  • Fungal infection. Also referred to as tinea capitis or “scalp ringworm,” a fungal infection of your scalp can damage your hair follicles and cause rapid hair loss. In most cases, hair loss from fungal infections is temporary. However, severe infections can cause an abscess to form on your scalp that can harm your hair follicles and lead to permanent hair loss.

  • Female pattern baldness. Also referred to as “pattern hair loss,” this form of hair loss is permanent and usually causes thinning around your midline part. In general, it’s uncommon for this form of hair loss to develop rapidly. However, if you’re genetically prone to hair loss, or suffer from a health condition that affects your levels of hormones such as DHT, you may experience rapid pattern hair loss. Our guide to female hair loss provides more information on this form of hair loss, as well as how it can be treated and prevented.

How to Treat Rapid Hair Loss

Almost all forms of hair loss are treatable, either by treating the underlying cause of the hair loss or by using medications to stimulate hair growth. 

Since some forms of hair loss are permanent, it’s important to seek expert medical help as soon as you notice that you’re losing hair. The earlier you seek treatment, the sooner you’ll be able to solve the underlying cause of your hair loss and start the hair regrowth process.

Treating Telogen Effluvium

If your hair loss is caused by telogen effluvium, it should grow back on its own once the primary cause of the hair loss is identified and treated.

For example, if you have telogen effluvium due to stress, making changes to your lifestyle that reduce your exposure to stress may help you to regrow any lost hair. 

Similarly, if you have telogen effluvium due to medication use, stopping the medication or using an alternative treatment may cause your hair growth to restart.

Since the underlying cause of telogen effluvium can be difficult to identify on your own, it’s best to talk to a dermatologist or other licensed healthcare provider if you believe you may have this form of hair loss. 

Treating Other Types of Rapid Hair Loss

Other types of rapid hair loss can typically be treated with medication or by making changes to your hair care habits and lifestyle:

  • Traction alopecia is often treatable by changing to a hairstyle that puts less pressure on the roots of your hair. You may need to avoid heat or chemical hair treatments and take a break from brushing the affected area. Advanced traction alopecia can cause permanent hair loss and often needs to be treated through hair transplant surgery.

  • Hair loss from alopecia areata typically grows back on its own within a few months of the beginning of hair shedding. However, more severe hair loss may require treatment using corticosteroids (like anavar for women)and ultraviolet light therapy.

  • Hair loss from tinea capitis usually improves once the fungal infection is treated. To treat this type of infection, you may need to use oral antifungal medications for several weeks, either on their own or in combination with other medications.

  • Female pattern hair loss can be treated with medication to reduce your androgen levels, such as spironolactone, and with hair growth medications such as minoxidil. 

Hair Growth Medications

If you’ve recently lost hair and want to speed up the regrowth process, you may want to use a hair growth medication such as minoxidil. 

Minoxidil is a topical medication that you apply directly to your scalp. It works by shifting hairs into the anagen, or growth, phase of the hair growth process. It also helps to stimulate blood flow to your scalp and supply your hair follicles with nutrients.

We offer minoxidil 2% for women as a topical solution that you can use to improve growth and restore hair in areas of your scalp affected by rapid hair loss.

You can find out more about how minoxidil works, how to apply it to your scalp and more in our guide to minoxidil for female hair loss.

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In Conclusion

Dealing with hair loss is never fun, especially when you’re experiencing rapid shedding that just doesn’t seem to improve on its own.

If you’re losing hair and aren’t sure why, it’s best to talk to a dermatologist to find out what could be causing your hair loss.

Once you’ve identified the root cause of your hair loss, you can stop further shedding by treating the underlying condition through medication, lifestyle changes and self-care techniques. 

Medications like minoxidil and science-based hair care products can also promote regrowth and stop excessive shedding from affecting your hair’s appearance. 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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