Telogen Effluvium: What Is It and What Can I Do?

Medically reviewed by Sarah Taylor, MD on January 25, 2017Written by Traci Angel on January 25, 2017

Overview

Telogen effluvium (TE) is considered the second most common form of hair loss diagnosed by dermatologists. It occurs when there’s a change in the number of hair follicles that are growing hair.

If this number significantly lowers during the resting (telogen) phase of hair growth, more dormant hair follicles will present. This results in TE hair loss, which typically isn’t permanent. Keep reading to learn what causes this condition and what you can do to treat it.

What are the symptoms of telogen effluvium?

TE first appears as a thinning of hair on the scalp. This thinning may be limited to one area or appear all over. If it does thin in multiple places, you may find that some areas are affected more than others.

It affects the top of the scalp most often. Rarely will TE cause your hairline to recede. It’s also unlikely that you’ll lose all of your hair.

In some severe cases, TE can cause hair in other areas to fall out, like your eyebrows and pubic region.

What causes telogen effluvium?

TE hair loss can be triggered in many different ways. These include:

Environment

Physical trauma, like being in a car crash, having blood loss, or having surgery, might trigger TE. Exposure to toxins like heavy metals may also cause this condition. This is because the “shock” of the environmental change causes your hair follicles to go into a resting state. When hair follicles are in a resting state, they don’t grow as they normally would.

Although this type of TE can occur quickly, you likely will not experience any noticeable thinning until one or two months later. If the environment is stable, your hair can quickly return to normal.

This type of TE usually clears up in less than six months. Your hair will typically return to its normal state within one year.

Hormones

Experiencing a sudden change in hormone levels can trigger TE hair loss. Similar to an environmental change, hormone fluctuation can cause hair follicles to go into a prolonged resting state. If TE occurs during pregnancy, hair growth is usually restored within six months to a year after childbirth.

Medications or medical treatment

Some antidepressants and other medications like antihypertensives and oral contraceptives, may cause hair loss. If you started a new medication before you started experiencing hair loss, it may be worth speaking to your doctor. They can assess your symptoms and recommend a different medication.

Some surgeries or vaccinations can cause a shock to your system and put the hair follicles into a resting state. Hair growth typically returns to normal within a few months.

Diet

Some researchers believe that hair loss may be the result of a vitamin or nutrient deficiency.

It’s thought that deficiencies of the following may impact hair growth:

  • iron
  • zinc
  • vitamin B-6
  • vitamin B-12

If vitamin supplements are your primary source of these nutrients, you should talk with your doctor or dietician. They can work with you to develop a healthy diet. Crash dieting should be avoided, as it has been known to cause TE.

Sign of another condition

Hair loss could be a symptom of another condition. For example, alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that results in total hair loss. Thyroid conditions and fluctuations in thyroid hormones may also cause hair loss. Allergic contact dermatitis to hair dyes can also result in hair loss.

Check out: Why is my hair falling out? »

Telogen effluvium treatment: What works?

Treatments for TE can range from lifestyle changes to trying out over-the-counter (OTC) products.

The best way to treat the condition is to figure what’s triggering it — your environment, hormones, or lifestyle choices.

Focus on diet and nutrition

You may be deficient in some essential vitamins and nutrients that are important to hair health. Ask your doctor to check your levels and see if you are getting enough vitamin D, zinc, and iron. Eating a well-balanced diet is crucial to ensuring you get all of the nutrients you need.

Take care with hair care

If you have TE, it’s important that you’re gentle when styling your hair. Avoid blow drying, straightening, or curling your hair until your condition improves. Frequent coloring or highlighting during this time can also damage and inhibit hair growth.

Get help from the pharmacy

OTC products may also help regrowth. Be sure to select a product that contains 5 percent minoxidil. This is a once-daily topical product that’s applied to the scalp. It works by prolonging the anagen, or the active growth phase of the hair follicle.

Relax

If your hair loss is related to stress, reducing your stress levels may also help. You may wish to start journaling or mindful meditation to help manage your stress. Yoga and other forms of exercise may help clear your mind and offer a healthy way to cope with your stress.

Learn more: The 4 best treatments for postpartum hair loss »

Is there a difference between telogen and anagen effluvium?

Anagen effluvium (AE) is another form of hair loss. AE can take hold more quickly and result in more drastic hair loss. Clumps of hair may fall out.

People who are undergoing cancer treatments or take cytostatic drugs, such as alkylating agents or antimetabolites, may experience AE.

AE, like TE, is reversible. After stopping chemotherapy, it can take up to six months before your hair resumes its normal rate of growth.

Outlook

TE hair loss isn’t permanent. Although your hair will likely return to its usual growth pattern within six months, it may take from one year to 18 months before your hair returns to its previous appearance.

If at any time your symptoms worsen, consult your doctor. They can help determine what’s behind your hair loss and help develop an appropriate treatment plan for you.

Keep reading: 9 tricks for healthier, fuller-looking hair »

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