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Loose Anagen Syndrome (LAS) – a recently diagnosed syndrome – is not physically painful, but it can be psychologically damaging.

Your six-year-old daughter has short, thin, fair hair. In the mornings, clumps of her locks are left behind on the pillow. She removes her swimming cap, and also removes bunches of hair. When a friend accidently pulls her hair while they play, she pulls out a batch of hair. Loose Anagen Syndrome (LAS) is not physically painful, but it can be psychologically damaging.

Medically speaking

A recently diagnosed syndrome, LAS is believed to be a genetic disorder. Research has shown that the syndrome affects mostly girls between the ages of two and six years old who have fair or blonde hair. It is not clear why the hair is loose. The American Hair Loss Association says: “The root sheaths that normally surround and protect the hair shaft in the skin are not produced properly.” It also seems that because the root sheaths are not fully formed, the hair fibre is poorly anchored in the hair follicle. It may also be a keratin disorder, which is hereditary.

Dealing with LAS

There is no cure for LAS, but in most cases the condition improves as children grow older and disappears completely in puberty. if LAS is suspected, parents should consult a dermatologist or trichologist.  Trichology is a branch of dermatology that deals with the scientific study of the health of hair and the scalp. Specialists will perform two basic tests to confirm LAS: the hair-pull test and the hair-plug trichogram.
For daily care, Elma Titus, a trichologist with over 35 years’ experience, suggests the following: “Five percent Minoxidil solution applied twice daily helps to stimulate the hair follicles and prolong the growth cycle. Aminexil and procapil can also be used as it keeps the hair longer in the growth phase. It also ensures better anchorage of the hair follicle and improves circulation.” Titus recommends that you use good shampoos designed to stimulate hair growth as well as conditioners to lubricate and nourish it. “But,” she stresses. “get these products from reputable companies.” It’s also important to be gentle when washing LAS hair. Gently massage the scalp, as this stimulates the blood flow, which brings nourishment to the roots and stimulates growth. “Sufferers should also drink enough water and consider a protein-rich diet because hair consists of keratin, a protein material,” says Titus.

How to explain it to your child

Natalie de Gouveia, a registered counsellor and play therapist from Linksfield in Joburg, says it may seem daunting to try explaining LAS to your child, especially considering you don’t have all the answers. She offers three tips to help you through the process.
1. Educate yourself
“Find out all there is to know about LAS; the causes, the symptoms and treatments,” says De Gouveia.
2. Establish how severe your child’s case is
“Every case is unique and the more you understand your specific situation, the better you are equipped to handle it and explain it to your child,” she adds.
3. Talk to your child about the condition
“Keep the explanation age-appropriate,” says De Gouveia. “If your child is three years old, you shouldn’t use technical terms that will confuse them. Keep it simple: ‘Do you know how your brain tells your eyes to open and close? Well, something in your brain is telling your hair not to grow properly.’” De Gouveia says as a child grows older you can give more detailed explanations. Then reassure your child: “Tell them that boys and girls of all ages and races can get LAS. No-one knows yet why this happens, but it is not because of something they did. The good news is that LAS just makes hair fall out. It doesn’t hurt or make you tired, like the flu or chicken pox. You can carry on playing and having fun.”

Coping with the emotional effects of LAS in the classroom …

Having LAS, or any other physical deformity, can be isolating and make a child feel vulnerable. “For a child who is ‘different’ from their peers, teasing, stares and general isolation may be common,” says De Gouveia. This will inevitably lead to a low self-esteem. It could also lead to the child avoiding school, which will negatively impact academic performance. “A child in this position is aware of her difference and, if unaddressed, feelings of shame and guilt will accompany the already muddled feelings,” De Gouveia says. “Because of the shame involved, the child may actually feel that their ‘problem’ is not something to talk about.”
De Gouveia reiterates that it’s important for parents of a child with LAS to provide support structures in all areas of the child’s life, including school. Approach the child’s school directly, and together with the teachers assess whether this is an issue of confidentiality. “LAS itself, after all, will not hold the child back from being involved in social and school activities. If confidentiality is not an issue, teachers can help by educating peers about LAS.” She says peers become more aware of what it feels like to be “different” when a caring and supportive environment is created. Activities designed to awaken tolerance, awareness and respect should help the child with LAS feel comfortable in the classroom and in social situations.
And at home …
“You’ll be surprised at how many people are going through the same situation and who share your feelings,” says De Gouveia. She recommends that parents find a support group. “If your child is being bullied or struggling with low self-esteem, you may want to attend therapy.” Your child will be able to express himself in a safe, comfortable way while gaining confidence and learning that they are not that different after all, just unique.

How LAS presents itself

  • Hair is lustreless and does not grow.
  • Sparse growth of thin, fine hair and patchy baldness, and hair that does not grow longer.
  • Hair can be easily and painlessly pulled out of the scalp, though the hair is not fragile.
  • You will find decreased hair density and unruly hair, especially in children.
  • Hair at the back of the head or skull tends to be rough and does not lie flat. Hair also appears frizzy, unmanageable and unruly.
  • LAS hardly ever presents itself in other parts of the body that have hair.

Marina Zietsman