Hair Eating

Hair Eating (Trichophagia)

Trichophagia is a compulsive habit of eating one’s hair and is often done subconsciously. Trichophagia has a close connection with trichotillomania which is characterized by the constant desire to pull out one’s hair resulting in visible hair loss. The two are intertwined in that trichotillomania causes trichophagia. However, the two can also occur independently as a distinct obsessive-compulsive behavior. Trichophagia can also occur as a result of other mental health conditions such as anxiety. For some, the behavior can be easily managed while others, who find the urge too much to handle, may seek professional assistance. The pinpoint cause of trichophagia is not fully known but is always linked to emotional distress.

Signs & Symptoms

Compulsive hair pulling: Individuals dealing with trichophagia often find themselves pulling their hair out forcefully and then eating it. The compulsive behavior is often driven by one’s irresistible desire to pull out their hair.

Chewing, biting, and swallowed hair: The major symptom that distinguishes trichophagia from trichotillomania compulsive behavior is the consumption of the hair that has been pulled out. People dealing with trichophagia often find the urge to swallow or chew the pulled hair irresistible. Therefore, they often find themselves chewing on the hair subconsciously.

Trichobezoars (Hairballs): Trichobezoars, which is the formation of hairballs in the stomach, is also another symptom. The swallowed hair accumulates over time to form hairballs in the stomach due to its indigestion. Gastric trichobezoars can lead to obstruction and signs that may indicate this obstruction are vomiting and abdominal pain. Common symptoms of trichobezoars are vomiting, loss of appetite, and nausea.

Hair loss: Another common symptom of trichophagia is noticeable hair loss usually as a result of all the pulling. Individuals dealing with trichophagia do not have to necessarily pull the hair from their head, they can also pull their eyebrows and eyelashes.

Causes

The cause of trichophagia is not fully understood. Similar to many other body-focused repetitive behaviors, trichophagia may result from a combination of genetics and acquired behaviors. Despite the cause being unknown, there are several risk factors related to trichophagia and they include:

  • Genetics.
  • Skin or hair-related health conditions that may cause discomfort.
  • Age — Babies may pull out their hair but they usually outgrow the condition.
  • Mental health-associated conditions.
  • One’s state of being may influence the behavior, such as boredom or isolation.

Causes

The cause of trichophagia is not fully understood. Similar to many other body-focused repetitive behaviors, trichophagia may result from a combination of genetics and acquired behaviors. Despite the cause being unknown, there are several risk factors related to trichophagia and they include:

  • Genetics.
  • Skin or hair-related health conditions that may cause discomfort.
  • Age — Babies may pull out their hair but they usually outgrow the condition.
  • Mental health-associated conditions.
  • One’s state of being may influence the behavior, such as boredom or isolation.

Impacts and Effects

Although trichophagia may seem to be mild, it can have negative effects on one’s health and mental well-being in general.

  • Emotional distress: The impact of one’s appearance associated with hair loss can cause emotional distress.
  • Social life challenges: One may find it hard to stay settled in social events when they are dealing with hair loss.
  • Hair and skin damage: This can cause one to wear wigs or style their hair in a way that hides the patches caused by forceful hair pulling.
  • Hairballs: Can cause loss of weight, especially if one is experiencing nausea and abdominal pain. The ingested hair may also take up space in one’s stomach thus lowering appetite for healthy food.

Featured Self-Help Articles
No items found.

 Treatment

Similar to other BFRBs, trichophagia requires proper management to prevent the symptoms from worsening.

  • Psychotherapy: One can enroll in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) since it is a common form of therapy used in the management of trichophagia. CBT helps one become more aware of their behavior which makes it easy to address the thoughts and emotions that result in this compulsive behavior.
  • Medications: In severe trichophagia cases, one may have to take prescribed medication such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors which are given to manage severe symptoms. The medication addresses the underlying issues such as anxieties that cause trichophagia.
  • Support groups: Joining a support group helps an individual get a feeling that they are not alone in their struggles. Through such groups, one meets individuals facing similar challenges and they can exchange their coping mechanisms, as well as help each other understand the condition they are dealing with.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are BFRBs?
Are BFRBs lifelong disorders?
What causes BFRBs?
What treatment options are available for BFRBs?
View All