Most of the time, we don't think about our hair unless it's in need of a wash, a color change, a cut, or a ponytail (when we're rushing out the door and just can't deal with the bedhead). But if our locks could talk, they might have something important to say. Subtle changes in our hair can signal health problems that we might be overlooking. Paying attention to these changes can make a big difference, and not just in the way your hair looks.
Some apparently alarming hair changes are perfectly normal. For instance, we lose about 100 of the 150,000 hairs on our head every day as old hair cells are forced out by new ones, explained WebMD. Going gray is inevitable for many of us, and it can either be genetic or a result of cumulative damage in the cells that produce hair coloring. Plus our hair undergoes changes in texture and thickness at certain points in our life; the hormonal crazies of adolescence can turn straight hair frizzy, and during pregnancy, your hair may grow in thicker and more lustrous (one of the symptoms that we don't mind having!).
But when the feel and look of your hair changes unexpectedly, even in small ways, it can be your body's way of saying there's an underlying condition that shouldn't be ignored. If you notice any of the symptoms below, talk to your doctor about what your hair could be trying to tell you.
Your Hair Feels Coarser
Hair that turns dry and coarse can have a variety of causes, but combined with other symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, joint pain, and intolerance to cold weather, it all can add up to hypothyroidism, or underactivity of the thyroid gland, explained Everyday Health. Hypothyroidism can also cause hair to grow more slowly than normal. Your doctor can order a blood test to check the levels of your thyroid hormone, and it can likely be treated with medication.
The Grays Are Coming In Early
Although natural changes in your hair color are largely determined by genetics, there are factors other than genes and age that can cause your hair to go gray prematurely, explained Everyday Health. For instance, certain viruses can cause premature graying, as can nutritional deficiencies or even diseases like multiple sclerosis. And while scientists aren't fully convinced that stress can turn hair gray, at least one study found that long-term stress can affect the hormone levels of the stem cells that determine hair color.
There's More Hair In Your Brush
You're doing your hair when you notice that your brush is full of loose strands. Or the shower drain gets totally clogged after a shampoo. If you're losing more strands than usual, a number of physical conditions could be to blame. For instance, if you've just had a baby, you might be among the approximately half of new mothers who experience telogen effluvium, an excessive hair loss that occurs between one to five months after delivery as a result of hormone levels readjusting. But hair loss can also signal an iron deficiency, reported WebMD, along with other symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath. Rather than self-diagnose, however, it's best to check with your doctor, who can order blood tests to check on your iron levels.
Your Hair Is Looking Dull
If your locks seem less lustrous and shiny after you start a new eating plan, it could be your hair's way of telling you that you're cutting back too far on healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, registered nutritionist Kayleigh McMordie told Business Insider. That can hurt you in the long run: Healthy fats are necessary to protect your organs, maintain nerve tissue in your brain, maintain energy, and regulate your body temperature, nutritionists told Self. Adding moderate portions of nuts, avocado, flaxseeds, and fatty fish like salmon to your diet will help keep you healthy, as well as help restore the shine and life to your hair.
Your Hairline Seems To Be Thinning Out
Hair that becomes baby-fine and brittle right at the hairline can be a symptom of lupus, an autoimmune disease causing inflammation to various areas of the skin, explained the Mayo Clinic. Other symptoms of lupus include fatigue, joint pain, and a red butterfly-like rash on the face. If you notice any significant change to the thickness of your hair, consult your doctor.
Your Hair Is Getting Brittle
Brittle, easily breakable hair can be caused by anything from cold weather to your daily blow-drying session. But when it's accompanied by more alarming symptoms such as unexplained weight gain, high blood pressure, purple stretch marks, irregular or skipped periods, and fat deposits on the face or between the shoulders, this points to a disease called Cushing syndrome, caused when the adrenal glands overproduce the hormone cortisol. The condition can be caused either by an abnormality in the glands themselves, or by use of certain corticosteroid medications. If you notice brittle hair along with other changes in your appearance or health, see a doctor ASAP.
Your Scalp Has Patches
If you're noticing hair loss in small circular patches on your scalp, you might have ringworm, a contagious fungus that causes hair loss, per WebMD. It's common in families with young children, who can spread it to the adults in their family. The good news: It's totally treatable with prescription cream or shampoo, so talk to your doctor ASAP if you suspect this is the culprit.
Losing hair in patches can also be a sign of alopecia areata, a disease in which the body's immune system attacks the hair follicles. Patients may lose some or all of their scalp hair, along with hair on the rest of their bodies.
Your Hair Itself Seems Thinner
If your normally thick hair seems to be thinning out, this could be a sign of anemia, or low red blood cell count, explained Women's Health. The causes of anemia range from an iron-deficient diet to heavy periods and endometriosis to more serious conditions, such as celiac disease or colon cancer. Again, let your doctor know if you see a change in the texture of your hair.
You See White Specks
You look in the mirror and notice white or whitish specks on your hair. Apart from the fact that they look awful, they could also signal trouble. White flakes on top of your hair that brush off easily are most probably dandruff. Most of the time, an OTC dandruff shampoo will take care of the problem, but keep in mind that people with certain neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, are more likely to develop dandruff than the rest of the population, cautioned the Mayo Clinic. If you're concerned, talk to your doctor.
White flecks of skin can also appear on your hair when your scalp is excessively dry, though you're more likely to notice the scaly, itchy skin on and near your scalp. The potential danger in dry scalp, noted WebMD, is the risk of infection from scratching so hard that the skin breaks. Though some cases of dry scalp can be traced to cold weather or a reaction to hair products, skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema can also be to blame, according to Healthline.
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