Childhood Alopecia: Causes and Types
Childhood alopecia is the excessive loss of hair that can occur in children under the age of 12. At first, the problem tends to go unnoticed. That’s because many parents perceive hair loss as a normal symptom of the growth period .
However, in some cases, it can be quite noticeable. This is especially true because the volume of a child’s hair decreases and balds spots may even appear. What are the causes of childhood alopecia? How is it classified? In the article below, we’ll tell you about the most relevant aspects of this condition.
What are the causes of childhood alopecia?
According to information published by the American Hair Loss Association , 3% of pediatric visits in countries like the United States involve consults regarding childhood alopecia. For many parents, the problem causes a great deal of worry. This is not only because of its relationships with health problems, but also because of the emotional impact on children.
Fortunately, in most cases, the problem is temporary and tends to solve itself with proper professional intervention. However, in order to determine the right course of treatment, it’s important to first make a diagnosis. In other words, a specialist must establish the cause of the hair loss as well as the type.
In many cases, childhood alopecia in children is the result of infectious processes in the scalp or genetic factors. However, there are other possible triggers that can explain infant hair loss. These include the following:
- Illnesses – hypothyroidism, lupus erythematosus, childhood cancer, among others
- Metabolic alterations
- Nutritional deficits (a lack of zinc or iron, for example)
- Emotional triggers (the divorce of one’s parents, bullying, anxiety, etc)
What types of childhood alopecia exist?
Childhood alopecia is divided into two categories: Civatricial alopecia and non-cicatricial alopecia. In the first category, there’s damage to the hair follicle that causes a permanent and non-reversible effect. On the other hand, the effects of non-scarring alopecia are reversible. So, what are the different types of childhood alopecia?
As explained by an article published in the Annals of Dermatology, occipital alopecia occurs during the first months of life due to the evolution of the follicular cycle that takes place in the fetal and neonatal periods.
During the 20th week of gestation, the scalp already has follicles that are in the growth stage. As the months go by, these follicles enter the falling out stage. It’s at the time of birth when one can observe the abrupt loss of hair. In this case, treatment is not necessary as hair will repopulate the area on its own .
Congenital triangular alopecia
Triangular alopecia starts in the uterus. It’s characterized by the presence of a triangle-shaped patch that doesn’t possess hair. The patch typically appears on either side of the temporal region and doesn’t extend to other areas. This form of childhood alopecia is permanent. In other words, there’s no treatment.
Telogen and anagen effluvium
Children that present this type of problem suffer an abundant loss of hair. In general, the loss occurs in association with the following conditions:
- Endocrine diseases
- Chronic illness
- Surgical interventions
- Intense fever
Treatment involves diagnosing the underlying cause and resolving that issue. Telogen and anagen effluvium are the most frequent variations of diffuse childhood alopecia.
You may also want to read: Is it Possible to Stop Losing Hair?
This is a chronic inflammatory process that originates in the immune system. Hair falls out on its own due to the abrupt halting of the follicles in certain areas, whether on the head or on the body (such as arms or legs).
In general, alopecia areata appears before the age of twenty and is treatable. The main causes are emotional tension or moments of intense stress. For example, exam period, some sort of emotional or physical abuse, or parental divorce.
Childhood alopecia as the result of traction
Ponytails, braids, and tight hairdos can cause hair loss in children. It results from the continuous pulling of the hair in certain areas. In some cases, it can be irreversible. Therefore, it’s important to avoid putting tension on the hair and leaving it free and relaxed.
Alopecia due to trichotilomania
Produced by severe cases of anxiety, children have a tendency to pull out their hair, which leads to alopecia. Treatment consists of psychological attention with the objective of discovering what’s causing the problem. It’s considered a nervous tic and is more frequent in the nape of the head and the bangs (fringe).
Also read: Is it Possible to Stop Losing Hair?
Alopecia due to ringworm
In this case, alopecia is caused by the presence of fungi and involves the appearance of localized hair loss. What’s more, ringworm can spread by direct contact between children. For example, at daycare or school or due to the sharing of a hairbrush or towel. It’s important to avoid the use of home remedies. Rather, a medical dermatologist should be the one to indicate the proper treatment.
Alopecia as the result of oncological treatments
This type of alopecia not only occurs on the head but also on the face and body. It’s best to avoid remedies and wait for oncological treatment to be over for hair to return .
Childhood alopecia: What else do you need to know?
In general, each type of alopecia is more frequent in a specific age group .
- Occipital and triangular alopecia is more common among babies and small children.
- Telogen and anagen effluvium, trichotillomania, tumors, ringworm, and alopecia areata are more common in later childhood and adolescence.
In any case, it’s always best to consult with a pediatrician or dermatologist in order to obtain a proper diagnosis. Once a professional determines the origin of alopecia, he or she will decide what are the best therapeutic options.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Children’s Hair Loss. (n.d.). American Hair Loss Association. Retrieved on June 19, 2020 from https://www.americanhairloss.org/children_hair_loss/introduction.html
- What you need to know about alopecia areata during childhood. (n.d.). National Alopecia Areata Foundation. Retrieved on June 19, 2020 from https://www.naaf.org/alopecia-areata/living-with-alopecia-areata/alopecia-areata-in-children
- Gilhar, Amos, Amos Etzioni, and Ralf Paus. “Alopecia areata.” New England Journal of Medicine 366.16 (2012)
Cranwell W, Sinclair R. Common causes of paediatric alopecia. Aust J Gen Pract. 2018;47(10):692-696. doi:10.31128/AJGP-11-17-4416
- Ho CH, Zito PM. Androgenetic Alopecia. [Updated 2019 May 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430924/
- Harvard Health Publishing. (April, 2019). Telogen Effluvium. Harvard University.
- Kim MS, Na CH, Choi H, Shin BS. Prevalence and factors associated with neonatal occipital alopecia: a retrospective study. Ann Dermatol. 2011;23(3):288-292. doi:10.5021/ad.2011.23.3.288
- Billero V, Miteva M. Traction alopecia: the root of the problem. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2018;11:149-159. Published 2018 Apr 6. doi:10.2147/CCID.S137296
Möhrenschlager M, Seidl HP, Ring J, Abeck D. Pediatric tinea capitis: recognition and management. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2005;6(4):203-213. doi:10.2165/00128071-200506040-00001