Trichotillomania (hair pulling disorder)

Trichotillomania, also known as ‘trich’, is when someone can't resist the urge to pull out their hair. They may pull out hair on their head or other places, like their eyebrows or eyelashes. It's more common in teenagers and young adults and tends to affect girls more than boys.

Symptoms of trichotillomania

People with ‘trich’ feel an intense urge to pull their hair out. They experience growing tension until they do. After pulling their hair out, they feel a sense of relief.

A person may sometimes pull their hair out in response to a stressful situation, or it may be done without really thinking about it.

Most people with ‘trich’ pull out hair from their scalp. But some pull out hair from other areas, such as their:

  • eyebrows
  • eyelashes
  • genital area
  • beard or moustache

Bald patches left on the head tend to have an unusual shape and may affect one side more than the other.

‘Trich’ may cause feelings of shame and low self-esteem. Those affected may try to keep their condition to themselves.

Causes of trichotillomania

It's not entirely clear what causes ‘trich’. It could be:

  • a  way of dealing with stress or anxiety
  • a chemical imbalance in the brain, similar to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • changes in hormone levels during puberty
  • a type of self-harm to seek relief from emotional distress

For some people, hair pulling can be a type of addiction. The more they pull their hair out, the more they want to keep doing it.

When to see a GP

See your GP if you're pulling your hair out or if you notice that your child is.

You should also see your GP if you or your child has a habit of eating hair. This can cause hairballs to form in the stomach, leading to serious illness.

Your GP may examine areas where the hair is missing. This is to check that nothing else is causing the hair to come out, such as a skin infection.

If your GP thinks you have ‘trich’, you may be referred for a type of treatment called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Treating trichotillomania

‘Trich’ is commonly treated using a type of CBT called habit reversal training.

This aims to help you replace a bad habit with something that's not harmful. Treatment usually involves:

  • keeping a diary of your hair pulling
  • working out the triggers for your hair pulling and learning how to avoid them
  • replacing hair pulling with another action, like squeezing a stress ball
  • involving loved ones to provide emotional support and encouragement

Antidepressants are no longer considered to be an effective treatment for ‘trich’.

Things you can try yourself

Here are some tips from people with ‘trich’ that may help when you feel the urge to pull your hair:

  • squeeze a stress ball or something similar
  • form a ball with your fist and tighten the muscles in that arm
  • use a fidget toy
  • wear a bandana or a tight-fitting hat, such as a beanie
  • come up with a saying that you repeat out loud until the urge to pull passes
  • take a soothing bath to ease any stress or anxiety
  • practise deep breathing until the urge to pull goes away
  • exercise
  • put plasters on your fingertips
  • cut your hair short

It may also help to open up about your ‘trich’ to people you trust, as hiding it can sometimes make your anxiety worse.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

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