I am 26 years old, female and had a severe attack of flu few weeks back. Strangely, since then, my hair has been falling out alarmingly. Please help.

From your letter, you appear to be having telogen effluvium (TE). This condition usually occurs due to a sudden disruption in the normal hair growth cycle. The disruption could be caused due to several factors including going on a crash diet, pregnancy, severe psychological stress, use of certain oral medications and an acute or chronic systemic illness.

In your case, the last suspected cause looks most likely. You have not mentioned the exact time interval between you suffering from the flu attack and the onset of excessive hair loss, but usually the symptoms of TE manifest after 8-12 weeks of the onset of illness.

This mostly happens due to a transitory suspension in the regular hair growth cycle caused by severe physical and psychological stress induced by the disease.

As such, a large group of fully grown (anagen) hair abruptly moves into telogen (falling) phase without passing through resting (catagen) phase of the hair growth cycle.

After 8-12 weeks of recovering from the distressing period of illness, the resting phase is affected, making large clumps of hair to fall out. TE in most cases is a self-limiting disorder, as a majority of sufferers recover in 3-4 months’ time.

However, in certain cases, complaints of excessive hair fall can continue to persist for longer periods.

In such cases, one must consult an experienced dermatologist who could carry out necessary investigations to rule out any of the other causes of excessive hair loss. Suitable treatment options include topical scalp preparations together with oral supplements.

Dr Ikramullah Al Nasir is an international education counsellor