Trichotillomania is a disorder in which a person pulls out his or her own hair, causing hair loss and damage to the scalp. It is uncontrollable urge and is classified as an obsessive compulsive disorder. It may be triggered by anxiety, though the disorder runs in families and is more common in women. It can vary from being mild to severe, and treatment is available which helps in reducing or stopping the habit.
The symptoms of trichotillomania include a very strong impulse to pull out one’s hair – from the scalp, eyebrows and other parts of the body. The urge is so strong that it just cannot be resisted and a person feels tension before pulling and pleasure or relief on pulling out the hair. The hair loss becomes evident on the scalp in the form of thinned hair or bald patches, as also on eyelashes and eyebrows. Sometimes the condition may result in trying to eat and chew the pulled-out hair, or playing with it. Efforts to stop the urge result in failure as it is so strong. A person becomes a misfit in social situations and at work, since hair loss cannot be hidden.
Trichotillomania may have other symptoms also, such as picking the skin, biting nails and chewing on lips. The disease may also manifest in pulling hair from pets, dolls or from clothes and blankets.
The hair pulling can be focused, when people know they are pulling their hair. Or it can be automatic, when they do not realise they are pulling their hair but do it automatically – and hair pulling is done when a person is doing other things like reading or watching TV. People can suffer from one or the other type of hair pulling, or both.
It is not known why people get trichotillomania, but it is believed that genetic and environmental factors trigger the condition. It can result out of a person fighting negative emotions. Stress, anxiety or frustration may trigger bouts of hair pulling. On the other hand, it may also be triggered by positive feelings, since it feels satisfying. It is a chronic illness. In women, it is sometimes related to hormonal changes as they occur in menstruation. The symptoms may vary over time, but the disease continues for many years.
It is important to see a doctor and seek advice if a person suffers from symptoms of hair pulling. A doctor will analyse the family history of the patient to discover genetic causes. Age can also play a role as people sometimes develop the condition in their early teens. Trichotillomania may also be symptomatic of mental stress, depression or anxiety.
Impact on one’s life
Trichotillomania can severely affect one’s life. Patients feel emotional distress, shame and embarrassment as they try to hide their bald patches. Sometimes the pulled hair is visible in scarred scalp and infections on the skin and scalp, besides permanent baldness. It may lead to more serious problems like depression which in turn may make a person take to alcohol or drugs. People suffering from the disease will avoid other people and social activities, thus causing loneliness. If one also has the habit of eating one’s pulled hair, it may clog the digestive tract, leading to other complications.
Trichotillomania has been noticed in youths and even toddlers. It is a psychological disorder and treatment consists of behavioural interventions such as talking and counselling with the patient. The cure is tailored to each individual separately. A clinical examination will reveal the extent of damage that has been inflicted by the individual.
Treatment includes counselling to reduce stress or dealing with the destructive habit. The doctor will try to guide the patient towards positive feelings and experiences. The family will also be involved in the treatment as they will be very helpful in controlling stress in the patient. This line of treatment helps patients get over their mental conditions and treat their condition logically.
Treatment also involves behaviour therapy and habit reversal training. The patient is guided to recognize situations that trigger hair pulling and use the trigger for introducing other behaviours instead. Patients are guided to clench their fists or use their hands to pull their ear whenever they feel the urge to pull hair. Habit reversal training has been found to be very helpful treatment of the disease.
Another treatment focuses on helping the patient to accept their condition and help them deal with their urge of hair-pulling.
The doctor may also prescribe medicines if required. Medicines containing clomipramine can be helpful in treatment.
Trichotillomania is a disease that affects one to four per cent of the population. It is a disease that can have serious consequences, so it is important to seek medical advice as soon as it is noticed. Fortunately, it can be cured by psychological or medical methods. Patients need not be embarrassed by the disease and treat it like any other medical condition, and seek medical help.