Telogen Effluvium in Young Males: Considerations
Telogen effluvium (TE) refers to a type of hair loss whereby a patient experiences increased daily shedding of hair. Instead of 30 or 40 hairs coming out of the scalp, the patient experiences 60, 70 or even hundreds of hairs shed on a daily basis. There are a variety of causes of telogen effluvium including stress, low iron, thyroid problems, medications and crash diets.
TE in Men
Telogen effluvium can occur in men and does occur in men. However, it is far less common than in women. In addition, there are many mimickers or 'lookalike' conditions that frequently lead to incorrect diagnoses of telogen effluvium in men. A good example of this is early staged androgenetic alopecia (AGA) in men. Men with early AGA experience increased hair shedding which looks very similar to a telogen effluvium. Many such men are diagnosed with TE when in fact the correct diagnosis is AGA. The most important question that should be asked in any male with a diagnosis of suspected telogen effluvium is: does this patient actually have androgenetic alopecia instead of telogen effluvium OR does this patient ALSO have androgenetic alopecia together with telogen effluvium?
Certainly telogen effluvium can occur as a sole diagnosis in men. However, more times than not in the patients I see, this is not the only diagnosis.
Telogen effluvium is largely a diagnosis made on history and clinical exam. Rarely, a biopsy is needed. For most individuals with TE, another person passing by in the street would not take notice there is hair loss even if substantial hair has been lost. TE causes diffuse loss - meaning the hair is lost all over the scalp. Such hair loss typically occurs 2-3 months after some kind of trigger. A person with TE however can look very different to the way they know they once looked. If I look at a photo of a patient and I say "this patient has hair loss" - it's like that another diagnosis is present other than TE or together with TE.
I see many young males with early androgenetic alopecia who are misdiagnosed as having a telogen effluvium. It's true more definitely that telogen effluvium can occur in young men - but one must always keep in mind that it's not really all that common. Most men who are shedding more than normal end up being diagnosed with androgenetic alopecia.
I'm often asked who long of a 'window' does a patient have to treat the TE before any irreversible changes happen. The reality is that if a male has TE as their sole diagnosis, there is quite a long window actually. However, the window closes if another hair loss diagnosis is present - especially androgenetic alopecia (AGA). TE can occur in men, yes. But too often androgenetic alopecia in the early early stages is ignored and missed. Biopsies and hair collections together with a careful scalp exam and medical history can help clarify things immensely.
Dr. Jeff Donovan is a Canadian and US board certified dermatologist specializing exclusively in hair loss. To schedule a consultation, please call the Whistler office at 604.283.1887