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What is trichodynia?

Is Trichodynia Real?
Combing hair can exacerbate the pain of trichodynia.
Combing hair can exacerbate the pain of trichodynia.

Very little is known about trichodynia, despite the fact that studies show that it's fairly common. One study found that as many as 34 percent of female patients who experience hair loss complain of trichodynia, which manifests itself as pain and discomfort in the scalp and hair [source: Willimann, Trueb]. The pain increases when the scalp is touched or the hair is combed. Men also complain of trichodynia, but not to the extent that women do. However, that may be because men as a gender are prepared for going bald and are less likely to see a doctor about losing their hair. One researcher has also hypothesized that women may perceive pain differently [source: Willimann, Trueb].

Researchers have tried to determine if trichodynia is a side effect of a certain type of hair loss. People with androgenetic alopecia lose their hair due to genetic factors, while people with telogen effluvium experience a disruption in the hair growth process for various reasons, like environmental factors and childbirth. Hair loss related to androgenetic alopecia is usually permanent, while hair regrows when caused by telogen effluvium once the precipitating factor, such as stress or a medication, is removed. A 2003 study published in the International Journal of Dermatology reported that while trichodynia is common in both major types of hair loss, it's slightly more common in people with telogen effluvium [source: Kivanc-Altunay et al.].

Whether baldness occurs due to genetic or environmental reasons, it's usually a stressful experience. Some researchers have tied trichodynia with the anxiety that women feel over losing their hair, claiming that it's a somatoform disorder that has women confusing their mental anguish with physical symptoms [source: Harth et al.]. Trichodynia often presents itself in conjuction with depressive disorders, obsessive disorders, anxiety disorders and body dysmorphic disorder.

The pain may not just be in people's heads, though. One researcher claimed that it may be due to inflammation of follicles, or to increased presence of neuropeptide P on the scalp, which may have something to do with the degree to which a person feels the inflammation [source: Willimann, Trueb].

At this point, treatment for trichodynia is tailored to the person. If doctors link the symptom with depression over losing one's hair, they may prescribe anti-depressants. If the hair loss is caused by telogen effluvium, doctors may direct their efforts to addressing the underlying factor behind the hair loss.

For more on scalp conditions, see the links on the next page.