When the subconscious, occasional nibbling of hair develops into more constant and severe eating of hair - particularly in teenagers and youth - take note and look out for more symptoms - a leading surgeon has urged.
Dr Galya Chinnery, head of the Upper Gastrointestinal Service in the Surgical Gastroenterology Unit at Groote Schuur Hospital, is part of a group of specialist doctors and researchers who published a series study based on their treatment of five patients who presented with a rare condition known as Rapunzel Syndrome.
Hair that is eaten doesn’t digest and can lead to a Trichobezoar forming in the tummy. This is a collection of hair that just sits there. Rapunzel Syndrome is a severe form of Trichobezoar, when an extended trail of hair extends and lies in the stomach and small bowel.
Only around 30 cases reported internationally. The South African study - published in the South African Medical Journal (July 2018, Volume 108, No.7) - involved five female patients ranging from 12 to 27 years.
Chinnery said parents shouldn’t panic where their children nibble on the hair, but there are some things to look out for. Here are some pointers:
* Most of us at some point have nibbled our hair subconsciously, we’ve all sat writing exams and chewed a little bit on the ends, but you’ve never actually intentionally taken a bite off and swallowed it. When you start doing that, it’s a problem and when it increases in severity and frequency it is a serious problem.
* Parents shouldn’t drag their children to see their doctor straight away. But when it becomes something that a patient is doing constantly - to the point that there are patches of short hair or patches of hair that has been removed, it’s obviously a big problem.
* Remember, the condition is associated with anxious, stressed, highly strung individuals. It is also associated with abdominal pain, a tendency to eat less and when you eat it’s associated with pain.
In this study all five Trichobezoars - two of which consisted entirely of artificial hair extensions - extended into the small intestine, with the longest measuring 1.4m long.
LISTEN: Chinnery explains some of the symptoms and the related effects on health