Dermatologists are leading experts in the diagnosis and management of hair disorders. The two most common hair problems are either excessive hair loss or excessive and unwanted hair growth. Various hair care practices, rare genetic conditions and unusual infections can also cause other hair abnormalities.
Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss. There are many types of alopecia that are mainly divided into scarring and non-scarring types. Androgenic alopecia (male pattern baldness) is by far the most common type and while many accept their balding fate, others seek active treatment. Various treatments are touted for this type of hair loss (and have been since the dawn of time) but only a few have firm scientific backing.
The female equivalent to androgenic alopecia is ‘female pattern hair loss’ which has a distinct clinical appearance but sometimes requires a biopsy for confirmation. As with androgenic alopecia, many forms of treatment exist for female pattern hair loss. Telogen effluvium is often a transient form of hair loss where pronounced hair shedding is observed. Alopecia areata is a common, non-scarring form of alopecia caused by an over-reactive immune response. Treatments are aimed at either decreasing the immune response of the skin or distracting the skin’s immune system. There are many other forms of alopecia not described here but that is always considered when a dermatologist is presented with hair loss cases.
Excess hair growth (hypertrichosis and hirsuitism)
Hypertrichosis describes excess hair growth that can be localised to one area of the skin or be more widespread. Hirsuitism refers to the excess growth of hair in females in a pattern that is seen in men. This can be caused by many factors including medication, hormonal abnormalities (such as polycystic ovarian syndrome) and tumours, or it can simply be a normal genetic tendency. Investigations are sometimes required to ensure that a medical problem is not the root cause of the problem. Various chemical, hormonal, physical and laser-based treatments are available.
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