Too Much Hair or Too Little? The Crazy Medical Conditions that Affect Hair Growth

Many women bemoan needing to shave their armpits and men regret their natural balding, but there are more extreme examples in the medical community of health conditions involving hair loss or overgrowth that can serious affect people’s lives, health and self-esteem. Serious conditions like alopecia and hypertrichosis can lead to massive problems with both head and body hair.


Hair is often a defining art of our outward appearance, and therefore any deviance from the norm can have a massive effect on how people feel about their appearance and further hurt their self-esteem. Alternatively, some choose to make lemonade from their lemons and make use of their unusual appearance and medical problems. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about alopecia and hypertrichosis.


What is Alopecia?


Alopecia is probably one of the more well-known causes of hair loss due to it being relatively common medical problem, especially when considering alopecia areata, the mildest form of the disease (the most generous estimate being that 1 in 50 will battle it at some point in their lives). Alopecia most common affects those under 20, and usually starts and losing clumps of hair—with the hair loss sometimes spreading to the whole scalp in some cases.


What causes Alopecia?


Alopecia is not a well understood disease, but it is thought that it is routed in an autoimmune problem wherein the body accidental attacks itself thinking that it is attacking a disease (in the face of alopecia, the causing damage to the hair follicles). Alopecia most obviously manifests in head hair loss (either partially or totally), but in some causes is can be so extreme as to cause all body hair to fall out. In most cases, hair lost through alopecia can eventually grow back, but some have permanent follicle damage from this disease.


Can things other than Alopecia cause hair loss?


The most obvious example of unnatural hair loss is that of cancer sufferers who undergo chemotherapy or other hair-loss inducing treatments. However, hair loss of any kind can be triggered by anything from stress to poor nutrition and health. The difference is that this kind of hair loss is usually gradual and localised: generally, only alopecia universalis or certain genetic disorders can cause one to lose body hair such as eyebrows and eyelashes or to never grow said hair in the first place.


What about those who grow too much hair?


Just as some people lose their body hair or never grow it at all, others have a problem in growing too much. The umbrella term for this condition is hypertrichosis, but it is often unkindly referred to as werewolf syndrome. Many people grow an above-average amount of body and facial hair and need to remedy it with near-constant use of a shaving kit (an especially common occurrence in men), but hypertrichosis usually refers to those who grow hair at such a rate and in such unusual places (such as the palms of the hands and soles of the feet) that it can actually make them appear non-human, hence the werewolf moniker. When this condition affects women and makes them grow facial hair as we would expect a man, it is referred to as hirsutism.


Are there different kinds of hypertrichosis?


Hypertrichosis refers to the symptom of growing too much hair, and there are may different issues that can cause the disease. Some have a genetic issue that causes them to have excessive hair from birth, whilst others have problems relating back to hormone-generation that often manifests during puberty. Hypertrichosis can manifest locally (usually due to medication or trauma), but it can also be a body-wide problem.


So what’s it like to live with Hypertrichosis?


Due to the extremely unusual appearance of those with hypertrichosis, it is a well-documented phenomenon throughout history and many records exist of those who have lived with the issue. Hypertrichosis also has achieved a certain level of cultural infamy because many sufferers have used their condition for their financial advantage and gone on to have successful careers in the circus or as ‘freak show’ performers. In such communities, hypertrichosis often find happiness and are able to live without the fear of stigma. Others, especially in the pre-modern era, however saw it is their only employment opportunity in a world that saw their condition as ugly and unnatural.


However, many who suffer from hypertrichosis go on to have normal jobs and normal lives. While there is no cure for hypertrichosis, many people have found relief from their symptoms using laser hair removal therapy or electrolysis.

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