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What Are the Early Signs of Balding?

29th Nov, 06:01

Medically reviewed by Dr Matthew Vickers, FRACGP, MBBS Syd, BMedSci Syd — Written by Jacqui Zyl

In today's world of oversharing, few subjects remain taboo, but balding is still one of them. Despite the fact that hair loss affects most men at some point in their lives, us blokes would prefer to talk about anything but the strands departing our heads.

If you're worried you could be losing your hair, allow us talk you through the early signs of balding, why it happens, and how you can stop hair loss in its tracks.

For some men, balding can start as early as their late teens. At such a young age, this can be a particularly bitter pill to swallow. But no matter what age your receding hairline begins, losing your hair is distressing for most blokes.

The good news is, that in most cases, it's not a fait accompli. Like most medical things that scare the bejesus out of you, educating yourself about the problem, getting an accurate diagnosis, and knowing your treatment options can help you take back control of the situation. And hair loss is no different.

Causes of balding

Hair loss can happen for many different reasons, but in 95% of cases, it's a result of male pattern baldness - also known as androgenic alopecia.

The word 'genetic' forms part of the name because that's exactly what causes it - your genes.

The genes you inherit from both your parents (not just those from your mother's side) largely determine whether or not you'll go bald. And it's not just one gene that causes it, it's the expression of many different genes, which makes male pattern baldness a complex genetic condition.

The role of DHT

Men whose fate it is to lose their hair inherit hair follicles with a genetic sensitivity to the hormone dihydrotestosterone (otherwise known as DHT). DHT is derived from testosterone, and both hormones are known as androgens.

Androgens give you your manly features during puberty, such as a deep voice, increased body and facial hair, muscle mass and the growth of your penis and testicles. But on the flip side, they're also probably the reason you've noticed hair loss. It's a bit of a double-edged sword situation.

So, how does DHT actually cause your hair to fall out?

High levels of androgens, including DHT, can shrink your hair follicles as well as shorten the hair growth cycle. This causes your hair to grow out looking thinner and more brittle - a process known as miniaturisation. It also causes your hair to fall out faster and new hairs to grow more slowly.

Research shows that men need both high levels of androgens as well as an increased genetic sensitivity of the hair follicles to DHT, to cause baldness.

If you've been unlucky enough to win that genetic lottery, you might think it's out of your control to change, but that's where you're wrong.

Thankfully, hair loss as a result of male pattern baldness doesn't happen overnight. It usually progresses gradually over many years, which means there's time to start effective hair loss treatments that could stop further hair loss, and even reverse hair fall entirely.

Start your consult with a Pilot doctor to find the effective hair loss treatment for you.

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Other reasons for hair loss

Aside from male pattern baldness, there are a myriad of other reasons you could be noticing excessive or sudden hair loss.

If you identify with any of these, it's best to seek medical advice from your doctor for a proper diagnosis, before discussing hair loss treatment.

Stress

Periods of chronic or traumatic stress such as the death of a loved one or a period of severe illness can cause general hair thinning. This type of hair loss is known as telogen effluvium, a form of temporary hair loss.  

It's usually noticeable within a few months of the stressful event, but once the stress subsides, your hair will most likely grow back.

Thyroid conditions

If you have hair loss that appears to have no underlying cause, it could be the result of a thyroid issue. Your doctor can easily check your thyroid levels with a blood test.

Certain prescription medications

Drugs for some common health conditions such as high cholesterol, depression, acne and high blood pressure can come with side effects that include hair loss.

Although rare, if it does happen, the hair loss is usually reversed once you stop taking the medication. But remember, never stop taking a medication without consulting your doctor first.

Nutritional deficiencies

In the developed world, nutritional deficiencies are rare, but if anything you should pay attention to protein, iron and zinc. Too little of any of these nutrients can contribute to hair loss.

Autoimmune conditions

Alopecia areata is a rare autoimmune condition that causes hair to fall out in patches. It can also affect your eyelashes, eyebrows and body hair.

Lupus is another autoimmune disease that can cause gradual hair thinning on the scalp as well as other areas of the body. In some cases, both these conditions can cause permanent hair loss.

Tinea capitis

This a highly contagious fungal infection, also known as ringworm of the scalp. It can cause small localised scaly spots on the scalp that can result in permanent hair loss.

It's most common in school-aged children, but can also affect adults. Thankfully, it and can be treated with antifungal medication from your doctor.

What are the early signs of balding?

Just like weight gain, hair loss can slowly creep up on you.

According to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, hair thinning usually only becomes noticeable after losing 50 percent or more of your scalp hair. That might seem like an alarming stat, but don't freak out just yet.

True to its name, male pattern hair loss follows a particular pattern, so there are some changes you can look out for early on. The earlier you catch it, the easier it is to treat. Here's what to keep an eye out for.

A receding hairline

Hair recession usually begins around the temples and causes an M-shaped hairline to form.

Thinning at the crown (top) of your head

As the M-shaped hairline of a widow's peak starts to deepen, hair loss at the crown of the head can begin, leading to a bald spot.

Thinning hair all over (diffuse thinning)

While it's most common for thinning hair to start at the crown of the head, it can also be more diffuse (spread around the entire scalp).

It's taking longer for your hair to grow and the regrowth is fine and wispy

Due to hair follicle miniaturisation - a hallmark of male pattern baldness - hairs become progressively shorter and wispier and eventually stop growing altogether.

Maturing hairline

A maturing hairline doesn't necessarily mean you're destined to lose your hair. In fact, men with a full head of hair well into midlife can have a mature hairline.

It's when the mature hairline begins to recede beyond one inch above your last forehead wrinkle that it could be time to pay closer attention.

difference between a maturing and receding hairline
Tell the difference between a maturing and receding hairline.


How early can you start balding?

For men with a strong genetic predisposition to balding, the process can begin as early as the teen years, just after puberty.

According to the stats, about 16% of boys aged 15-17 have male pattern baldness, and about 25 percent of men who experience balding begin the process before they reach the age of 21.

Losing your hair at such a young age can really knock your confidence. But thanks to modern medicine, it's a treatable condition.

Start your online consult with a Pilot doctor for a comprehensive text-based assessment and to discuss affordable and effective hair loss treatment options.

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What age do most guys start losing hair?

Male pattern baldness most commonly begins when a guy is in his 30s or 40s, and the prevalence increases with age.

Statistically, balding affects about one in five Aussie men in their 20s, about one in three in their 30s and nearly half of men in their 40s. By the age of 70, it can affect as many as 80% of men.

Being Caucasian also increases your chances of hair loss. It's much less common in other population groups, such as Asian men.

What not to look for

If you think you're balding, any hairs found in your brush, in the shower or on your pillow can be anxiety-producing. But before you jump to any conclusions, let's look at what's normal and what's not when it comes to hair loss.

It's perfectly normal to lose some hair every day. In fact, normal hair loss sees people lose on average 50-100 hairs per day, without even noticing.

It's called shedding and it's a natural part of the hair growth cycle. If your daily hair loss amount is fairly consistent and you're not noticing any significant changes to the thickness of your hair, you most likely have normal hair shedding.

The only causes for concern are:

  1. If you start noticing clumps of hair falling out or sudden hair loss. This could be a sign of a medical condition that needs to be addressed.
  2. You notice the hair on your scalp is gradually thinning. The best way to determine this is to take photos of the front, top and sides of your hair several months apart and compare them. Just be sure to take photos under the same lighting conditions.
receding hairline stages
The stages of a receding hairline.

How to stop balding

If you've decided that a shiny dome isn't really your look, there are a number of proven oral and topical medical treatments that can stop (and in some cases reverse) balding.

Hair loss medication

While Australian law prevents us from mentioning them here, what we can say is that they have a high success rate.

Pilot's hair loss treatments have been developed with Australian hair loss experts and have helped 80% of men keep and even regrow their hair.

To find out more, get connected with a Pilot doctor online and have a text-based consultation. It's super easy and discreet.

The most important thing is to act fast. If male pattern hair loss is at play, the quicker you begin treatment, the more hair you can save.

Topical treatments

If oral medical treatments aren't suitable for you, there are topical solutions that can help you hold onto your locks too.

They work by increasing blood flow to your hair follicles and encouraging the growth phase of your hair. Hair loss shampoos can also be effective for laying the groundwork for healthier hair follicles. A Pilot doctor will help you find the best solution for you.

Hair transplant

Got more significant hair loss? You might want to consider a hair transplant. This surgical procedure involves taking areas of the scalp that have active hairs (usually from the back and sides of the head) and grafting these pieces of skin onto bald or thinning areas of the scalp.

It's not a treatment for the faint-hearted - and it'll put a big dent in your wallet - but if it's successful, the results can be very pleasing. The downside: results are not guaranteed and there are warnings about risks and complications such as permanent scarring and infection, as well as the general considerations that come with surgery.

If you decide to go down this path, be sure to do your research and find a qualified surgeon who is experienced in carrying out this type of surgery.

If hair loss has you concerned, take comfort in knowing there's a solution out there. Pilot's hair loss treatments are safe and effective, and have helped thousands of Aussie men find new confidence.

Start your online consult today.

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