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What does it mean if somebody's hair falls out and grows back white?

After he was institutionalized for several months, my son (age 29) started having patches of his hair (about an inch across) fall out, and they would grow back in white. They don't bother him, but I am worried. What causes this?
Hair loss in patches is relatively common. There are many causes of this, some of which are normal and some of which indicate an underlying disease. Regardless, I would suggest your son be evaluated by his primary care physician. In addition, a dermatologist (a skin and hair specialist). In general, hair loss is known medically as alopecia. Hair is actually a complicated organ. Hair follicles go through many phases, some of which are a growth phase and some which are in a resting phase. Alopecia areata is the term the that medically describes hair loss in a specific clump. This can be caused by many reasons. The most likely cause of what you describe is alopecia secondary to stress. While not fully understood, we know that emotional and physical stress can cause the hair follicles to all go into the resting phase. From this, the hair can then fall out at once. In fact, what you describe of hair loss during a period of stress is common. This can subsequently resolve after the stress passes. Hair follicles change colors over time. It is possible that losing the younger colored hair follicles has brought out the white hairs. There are other causes that should be ruled out. These include autoimmune disorders, infections of the skin or endocrine (hormone) disorders. Talk to a dermatologist.
This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
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