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Does Telogen Effluvium Cause Itchy Scalp?

By WebMD Connect to Care Staff
Reviewed by Jennifer T. Haley, MD, FAAD on February 24, 2021
Could an itchy scalp be a sign of hair thinning? Learn more about the symptoms of telogen effluvium.

Telogen effluvium is the medical term for when hair sheds excessively. While hair shedding is a normal part of the hair growth cycle, telogen effluvium is usually a response to stress. Here’s more about telogen effluvium symptoms and how to get treatment.

Telogen Effluvium Symptoms

Signs of telogen effluvium may include:

  • Extra hair in the shower drain or on your hair brush
  • Being able to pull out more than four strands of hair at one time
  • Noticing less fullness in your hair even when others don’t  

Sometimes, hair thinning can be accompanied by scalp itching, but that itchiness is not necessarily a cause of the hair loss itself, Anna Chacon, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Fla., tells WebMD Connect to Care. The itchiness accompanied by hair thinning is more likely caused by dermatitis, or skin irritation, Chacon says.

“Oftentimes in hair loss such as telogen effluvium, scalp health is not adequate or optimal. Patients may be experiencing a scalp dermatitis, such as seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis or sebopsoriasis,” Chacon says.

Seborrheic dermatitis is the medical term for dandruff. Psoriasis is a condition in which skin cells multiply too quickly and don’t shed at a normal rate, which causes red patches and white scales on the skin’s surface. Sebopsoriasis refers to when someone has both dandruff and psoriasis.

“An itchy scalp with an underlying dermatitis or inflammation may contribute to hair loss, shedding and telogen effluvium,” Chacon says.

Keeping your scalp healthy and clear of residue can remove barriers to hair growth, but it’s not a treatment for hair loss itself, Chacon says.

“The main recommendation to treat telogen effluvium is to address the stressor. In many cases, the hair loss will correct on its own and is self-limited,” Chacon says.

Telogen effluvium usually occurs 3-6 months after the trigger and can be triggered by:

  • Surgery or physical trauma
  • Stress
  • Infection or illness (including COVID-19)
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Diet changes
  • Childbirth, menopause and other events that affect hormones
  • Iron deficiency
  • Thyroid issues
  • Medications

To treat telogen effluvium, you can try some things at home while also addressing underlying causes, such as vitamin deficiencies, with your doctor, Chacon says.

“General measures include gentle handling of the hair, avoiding trauma to the hair follicle or over-brushing, avoiding scalp massages,” Chacon says. “Underlying scalp conditions and hormonal imbalances should be addressed.” Chacon also recommends a “healthy, balanced diet” and getting lab work done at your doctor’s office. 

“Some tests that help assess the cause of hair loss include blood work, such as a complete blood count, iron studies, thyroid function tests, and hormonal levels … and even a test to rule out syphilis,” Chacon says.

Don’t Wait. Get Help Today.

The sooner you address the symptoms of hair loss, the more likely you are to prevent irreversible damage. Speak to a medical professional today to begin your journey to a fuller head of hair.