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Infectious Diseases

Updated 11 August 2020

Could hair loss be another Covid-19-related side effect?

Hair loss appears to be one of the numerous unpleasant Covid-19-related side effects patients are experiencing. But why is this happening?

  • Have you been experiencing hair loss lately?
  • According to dermatologists, a condition named telogen effluvium is widely reported in Covid-19 patients.
  • And even some uninfected people are losing their hair.

As the Covid-19 pandemic progresses, researchers are reporting many unpleasant and downright weird side effects of this disease – from neurological ailments such as confusion, to "Covid-toes" and rashes.

But it seems some Covid-19 patients are experiencing yet another side-effect – hair loss. According to a report by Science Alert, 56-year old Peggy Goroly, a Covid-19 patient from Long Island, New York, experienced severe fatigue, brain fog and heart palpitations. One perplexing symptom, however, was "traumatic" hair loss.

She asked members of a Facebook Covid-19 support group if she was the only one losing hair in clumps, and it turned out many patients were experiencing the same effect.

But how can Covid-19 affect your hair?

Hair loss and illness

Although hair loss is not listed as an official symptom, and the reports from Facebook support groups are anecdotal, Dr Shilpi Khetarpal, a dermatologist from Cleveland Clinic, confirms they have seen Covid-19 patients with severe hair loss.

According to Dr Khetarpal, the phenomenon is known as telogen effluvium, a form of temporary hair loss that occurs after a stressful, traumatic event. This condition is not the same as alopecia areata, a hair loss disorder resulting from an autoimmune disorder.

Harvard Health explains that 85% to 90% of the hair on the average person's head is in a so-called active stage of growing (anagen phase) while the rest of the hair is in a "resting" phase (telogen phase).

Shedding hair is normal, as hairs remain in the anagen phase for two to four years, then move into the telogen phase, where they "rest" for a couple of months, and then fall out to be replaced by new hairs.

But with telogen effluvium, more hairs are pushed into the "resting" phase, which results in more hair falling out, mostly from the top of your scalp.

There are many factors that can trigger telogen effluvium:

  • Major surgery
  • Physical trauma
  • Major stress
  • High fever or severe illness
  • Extreme weight loss or sudden extreme dietary changes
  • Sudden hormone changes
  • Iron deficiency
  • Hypo- or hyperthyroidism

In the case of Covid-19 infection, patients may spot hair loss two to four months after the most severe symptoms, as hair will first enter the "resting phase" before falling out.

According to Dr Khetarpal, hair loss is therefore not listed as a symptom, but rather a side effect of Covid-19.

"This is why we're seeing these patients now, several weeks after Covid-19 symptoms resolve. Telogen effluvium isn't a symptom of Covid-19 as much as it is a consequence of the infection."

Hair loss can occur for six to nine months and will usually resolve on its own.

How can you manage Covid-19-related hair loss?

While the hair loss is mostly temporary, it can still be traumatic. But Dr Khetarpal states some people have a greater genetic predisposition for hair loss than others, and proper nutrition is a key factor in restoring hair growth, especially iron and vitamin D.

If you experience any other symptoms such as itching, burning or a rash on the scalp, you should preferably see a dermatologist, but if it's only hair loss, you can continue your normal washing and styling routine without worrying.

Consult your doctor about your iron and vitamin D levels and ask if it's necessary for a supplement. Dr Khetarpal also states that a biotin supplement should help restore hair growth.

'I don't have Covid-19, but I'm experiencing major stress during the pandemic – could I lose my hair?'

While Covid-19 can be a devastating disease, you don't have to be physically ill to experience major psychological stress during this period. Therefore, hair loss can occur if you've had any increase in stress levels.

"There are so many pandemic-related stresses. There's financial stress, concern for ill family members, anxiety about contracting the virus, social isolation and changes related to working and schooling from home. We are absolutely seeing hair loss in non-Covid patients that seems related to pandemic stress."

READ: More symptoms of coronavirus: Covid toes and skin rashes

READ: Is Covid-19 now linked with strokes in young patients?

READ: Coronavirus hangs around even after symptoms subside

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