Trichophagia comes from the Greek words “tricha”= hair + “phagein”= to eat. Trichophagia is defined as compulsive eating of one’s hair. Trichophagia is not when an individual is mindlessly chewing on the ends of their hair, as many young children do when they are bored. Trichophagia occurs when hair is chewed and then swallowed. The hair will eventually collect in a sufferer’s stomach and will cause stomach problems such as indigestion and pain. If severe enough, a person can be given medication to induce vomiting or undergo surgery to remove the massive amounts of accumulated hair.
Trichophagia and Trichotillomania
Trichophagia is most often covered in the medical literature as "a rare symptom of trichotillomania" (source) . Both trichophagia and trichotillomania involve compulsions surrounding an individual’s hair. Trichotillomania sufferers will just pull out their hair and will not eat it. Trichophagia sufferers will ingest the pulled hair. Many sufferers of trichophagia start out with trichotillomania
Treatment for Trichophagia
Treating the disorder of trichophagia is similar to treatment of other impulse control disorders. The disorder is believed to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and can be treated with a combination of anti-depressant drugs and psychotherapy. Trichophagia must also be treated medically if the excess hair is causing problems within the digestive tract via medications or surgery. Occasionally the accumulation of hair in the digestive tract can cause a trichobezoar or hairball. This can cause many medical problems and have even caused a few deaths. Trichophagia can be seen as a more dangerous disorder than trichotillomania because of the formation of potentially deadly trichobezoars. This requires individuals who are suffering from trichophagia to seek treatment as soon as possible to decrease the potential risk of trichobezoars.