Trichotillomania(TTM), also called Trichotillosis or “trich” is a psychological condition that involves the compulsion to pull out one’s hair. The condition is characterized under an impulse control disorder, as the person has an irresistible urge to pull hair from any part of their body. If your baby or toddler has sudden hair loss, trich may be the cause. Although it does not cause permanent hair loss, children often respond well to behavioral treatment.
Causes of Trichotillomania
Although there is no specific cause to trich, it seems to include biological and behavioral components. In many impulse control disorders, there is an issue with an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals help nerves in the brain send messages to one another. When there is an imbalance, messages are sent too rapidly or too slowly, causing impulsive behavior.
Diagnosis of Trichotillomania
Trich is often diagnosed after an evaluation with a physician. There are no diagnostic tests used in the evaluation process, however, some physicians may want to rule out medical causes of hair loss. If trichotillomania is a concern, a physician will probably refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist who knows how to treat impulse disorders.
Trichotillomania in Babies
Hair pulling in babies is often looked at as being self comforting as they suck their thumb or eat. Many babies will try to pull at their mother’s hair with one hand, while grabbing at one’s own head. If a baby becomes upset, this is often a way that they calm themselves. As a baby grows into a toddler, they will be able to verbalize the habit and may pull their hair out without thinking. This is the age period that it often becomes obvious to the parents that it is a behavior that needs to be dealt with. For some babies, they grow out of hair pulling behavior, but others still continue to have the impulse to pull hair out.
Monitoring Hair Pulling Behavior in Babies
If you are concerned that your baby has early signs of trich, speak with your health care provider about developing a management plan. A physician will often recommend that you track the time that your child is at highest risk for following this urge, such as when the child is overtired, before sleeping, while watching television, eating or other times. This will help to make a plan to diminish the hair pulling.
Reducing Hair Pulling Behavior in Babies
If you are a parent of a baby with trich, you may be concerned about what you can do to prevent hair pulling. During infancy, it may be helpful to keep the child’s hair cut short or have them wear a hat or hair net during their high risk times. This might even include having them put on cotton gloves or mittens to reduce their hand control when they are most prone to pulling at their hair. Give your baby things to play with to keep their hands busy. There is a correlation between thumb sucking and pulling hair. It is important to work on reducing thumb sucking and hair pulling together in order to reduce attempts.