Monday, July 22, 2013

Big words today - Telogen Effluvium

As it turns out Ironman racing and training creates hair challenges for me


A few days after the race I began to notice something kind of unsettling. The first thing I noticed the next day. My hair was very very dry and stiff at the ends.

I thought it was because I had used my step-daughter's homemade shampoo so the next day in the  next city I bought a regular shampoo/conditioner to use. It was better, but a few days later in another city I noticed that my hair brush full of my hair.

I knew it was my hair because my daughter's hair was braided into a super complicated set of pigtails and so she wasn't actually brushing her hair. My son has short hair that is quite honestly never brushed. So the only option was me.

Now, I'm not a particularly vain person but I am a girl and while I don't have the greatest head of hair on the planet I was a little alarmed to see this. I also don't have a ton of hair so I want to keep what I have.

So, I did what any modern girl would do ...


Ah the modern age of self-diagnosis
I googled it. Of course, this is not always the best thing to do unless you want to convince yourself that you're dying of cancer. Side question why do all symptoms on WebMD seem to be related to fatal conditions? Luckily, I knew I wasn't dying so I didn't panic. But at the top of the list was iron-deficiency and thyroid disorder. I had to admit that both of these were possible given the stress I'd put myself through in the race.

So, I told my husband that I thought I might have gotten myself a little iron-deficient after the race. To his credit, he didn't freak out. But between the two of us we made sure I had iron-rich foods during the rest of the trip, spinach, meat, shellfish, pate, stuff like that. And as soon as I got home I added an iron supplement to my daily vitamin.

I didn't rule out the thyroid stuff but I didn't think that was it. My thyroid got out of wack after I had one of my kiddos so I'm familiar with those symptoms and I didn't really feel that.

I made a doctor's appointment the first day I was home. First available for this non-emergency ... two days away.

And more helpful anecdotal information
I also put my question to girls I know who've done Ironman - they had nothing to help but agreed I should take Iron.

And of course, I put my question online in the Women's forum on Slowtwitch.com. Yup...

At first it wasn't that helpful but then actually a woman posted that she had a similar thing happen in college - she was a collegiate swimmer with fine thin hair. Just like me!!! She was the first to suggest that perhaps mine wasn't falling out but breaking. Sure enough I do have a bunch of short hairs at the top from the breaks versus bald spots which would be falling out. Her breakage was caused by stress (not like anxiety really but physical stress to her body and hair). The advice, condition more, eat more, don't wear ponytails etc. I had to admit this sounded like what I was having but I was still going to see my doctor.

Actual Doctors Visit
Then I visited my doctor when I got back. I got a lot of attention in the office because of the race. That was fun.

They listened attentively to my symptoms.

They nodded appreciatively at my decision to take a multivitamin and iron.

They looked at my scalp and hair and skin. And they were -- not concerned at all. My doctor said actually, "You look great, fit and healthy." But to be honest he's pretty bald so I won't take hair tips from him even though he's very smart. My Nurse practitioner on the other hand has great hair. And she wasn't concerned either.

To humor me they did check my iron levels but they said if I was supplementing they would be fine since I had been in for a check up immediately prior to the race so they had my iron levels from then and nothing was out of wack. Sure enough the little blob sunk right down from iron levels.

So finally (this all took maybe 7 minutes) they had another fancy diagnosis. Stress both on my body and my hair.

Basically - my hair isn't falling out. It's breaking. Which is better news medically because it hasn't stopped growing. They suspect 3 things.

First, my hair was already stressed out before the race from spending a lot of time in ponytails, covered in sweat, under a hat and submerged in chlorinated water. Also, I highlight my hair which is not a process that is known to strengthen hair :-)

Second, my hair was pulled tightly back for more than 15 hours on race day and under a swim cap, then a bike helmet and lastly a visor for the run. It was wet this entire time with salt water and sweat. Again, this list would not be under any beauticians guide to how to best treat your hair for healthy hair.

Lastly, as a result of the recovery from the race my body would have indeed pulled all available protein resources to help my muscles recover. Hair and skin regeneration would have been pretty  low on the list.

More lastly, the nurse practitioner suggested that homemade shampoo might not be the best thing for my hair. A wise woman that one ... with good hair too.  She suggested instead picking up some Moroccan oils and hair conditioning masques (which I've done).

So, not iron deficient. That's good. Thyroid looks good that's also good. Diagnosis stress (officially Telogen Effluvium)  or pulling on your hair makes your hair thin out.

Plan of recovery, don't worry and don't put my hair in a ponytail very often for a while.

It's all good although I admit I'm a little nervous to go to my hair dresser because she was already lecturing me about just swimming. When she sees this she might fire me as a client ... :-)

And with that I declare myself recovered from the Ironman in all ways except mentally. I still cannot get up for 5:30 swim practice. I can get up at 5 just not go to the pool because ... I don't wanna. Next up ... what's next for Amy ... stay tuned.


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