Trichotillomania, or hair pulling disorder, is a mental disorder in which people have a strong desire and urge to pull out hair from different parts of their body, including the scalp and eyebrows. In this type of disorder — also considered an impulse control disorder — one finds it hard to resist the sudden urge to do something, which may even be harmful to the individual. Pulling out hair from the scalp may result in hair loss, often in the form of patches, which the affected individual will try to conceal. Although they are aware of the consequences of doing the action, they are not able to control themselves from doing so. Trichotillomania is more common among women than men. In children, both boys and girls are equally affected by this disorder.
Trichotillomania is characterized by:
- Being tense when there is the strong desire to pull out hair
- Sense of relief after giving in to the impulse to pull out hair
- Patchy bald areas from where hair has been pulled out
- Loss of hair in the eyebrows and eyelashes
- Behaviors like eating or chewing hair, twirling the hair, pulling the hair between the teeth
- Playing with pulled out hair
- Trying to hide the bald patches caused by pulling out hair
In many cases, this behavior is unconscious, while in others, there is a preparatory period before pulling them out. Many environmental factors, like the immediate surroundings and mood of the person, affect the action. Pulling out hair when the person is bored is common. For some individuals, they do it unconsciously while sitting in the car. The real cause of the disorder is still unknown. Both biological and behavioral factors are known to affect this disorder. Neurotransmitter imbalance is supposed to be one of the causes of this condition. Stress, depression, and anxiety are found to be factors that influence hair pulling.
Behavioral therapy is the best treatment possible for this disorder. Relaxation techniques and cognitive therapy is also used in the treatment of trichotrillomania. In psychotherapy, the person is trained to resist the urge to pull out hair. This treatment method is known as habit reversal training. Acceptance and commitment therapy helps the person to accept that they are having the urge to pull out hair. Medications, like antidepressants, are also used in controlling the symptoms of this disorder. If left unreated, this disorder may result in infections, skin damage, and permanent hair loss.