Sometimes you may find a strand of hair in your soup and just decide to overlook it and swallow it together with the soup. A single hair strand is not really dangerous as it is very small and the highest possibility is that it will just pass through the digestive tract. However, the hair poses a danger when it forms a clump, which would eventually form a giant hairball in your stomach necessitating the need to see a doctor. So, what happens when you swallow hair?
Some species of bacteria may try acting on the hair, leading to stomach upsets and/or diarrhea. This scenario is, however, very unlikely.
Hair is densely packed with a protein called keratin which has a very fibrous structure. Keratin requires long exposure to extreme acidic or alkaline conditions and temperatures way above 100 degree Celsius in order to break down. The human digestive system, however, cannot contain such conditions, making it impossible for humans to break keratin down. Most hair just passes through the digestive tract alongside other materials that cannot be digested and they are eliminated in the feces. You can therefore take chances if it is only a single hair strand. However, keep in mind that too many hair strands may eventually clump up and get stuck in the stomach.
Swallowing hair is a scenario that is also very common in cats. Like humans, cats also cannot digest hair, which is fur in their case. The hair that does not make it out of their digestive system builds up in their stomach forming a firm dense hair ball, also known as a trichobezoar. Most cats eventually get to vomit the hair balls before situation gets too bad.
Humans also begin developing hair balls when they eat a lot of hair. This sometimes happens to people suffering from trichophagia, a unique disorder of eating hair. Unlike cats, humans do not vomit their hair balls. Instead, the hair just sits in the stomach, obstructing the normal functioning of the digestive system. Eating hair can greatly alter the functioning of the liver and pancreas.
Some symptoms of trichobezoars in humans include:
Appearance of hair and/or blood in the stool
Excessive weight loss.
In extreme cases, a strand of hair ball can reach down the small intestines, a condition commonly known as Rapunzel Syndrome. The doctor can feel the hair ball by gently pushing the in the left upper and mid parts of the patients abdomen.
The hair balls can also be diagnosed using gastrointestinal X-rays, using ultrasound or looking into the patient’s stomach using an endoscope. Removal of this hair necessitates a major surgery where the doctor opens up the digestive track then pulls out the hair.
Considering all these things, you eventually realize it is not worth overlooking that single hair strand because as harmless as it may seem, it may cost you a lot. It is therefore important to avoid mistakes that can be very costly. As they say; ”to be safe is better than to be sorry.”