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Trichotillomania (tricho = hair pulling) is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder in which a person consciously or unconsciously pulls single or multiple hairs from the head. Hair may be pulled from eyelashes, eyebrows or other areas, resulting in bald patches.

The disorder is similar to self-harm and the pain caused by pulling out the hair releases neurotransmitters that stimulate the brain's reward centre and are therefore anti-anxiety or calming. Research has shown that there is a genetic component and that it is more common in people with OCD, but it is not known for sure why some people develop Trichotillomania.

 

Number of individuals with Trichotillomania

Among adults, it is estimated to be between 0.6 and 3.4 per cent. Studies have shown that the condition is about ten times more common among women than men. However, there are no studies on the percentage distribution in children. Trichotillomania usually starts during puberty. Without treatment, it is usually chronic, with some tendency to come and go in periods. If you are a parent of a child, you should carefully monitor your child in everyday life as it is usually an inability to resist pulling out their hair.

Causes Trichotillomania

Pulling out hair can act as a coping mechanism, meaning that you deal with anxiety, anger, frustration and other emotions in this way, and sometimes a stressful event can trigger it.

Research into why some children start pulling out their hair is unknown, but according to the Trichotillomania Learning Centre, it could be genetics or a neuro-biological disorder or changes in hormone levels. Research has also shown that many people who seek help for the condition also have another psychiatric diagnosis, such as depression, anxiety and other obsessive-compulsive disorders, substance abuse or ADHD.

Treatment:

If you can't stop pulling out your own hair, a referral can be made for assessment and treatment. Treatment to stop hair pulling usually involves a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy, medication and support groups. Cognitive-behavioural therapy looks at what triggers the behaviour and gives advice on how to deal with such situations. There is no 'pill' to cure Trichotillomania but some drugs such as antidepressants can relieve the anxiety or depression often associated with it.

Tips to stop pulling out hair
  • Make it more difficult to pull out hair, for example by wearing a cap.
  • Loose nails, tape or plasters on the hands make it more difficult to grab the hair.
  • Stress ball.
  • Dare to talk about it and seek help.

There are also a few similar symptoms, Trichotillophagy, which involves pulling out hairs and then eating them, and Dermatillomania (skin-picking), which involves repeatedly stressing the skin.

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