The first covid-19 case was recorded on 31st December 2019. While we have come a long way in understanding its symptoms and “modus operandi,” it still does not cease to surprise us. We’ve learned many lessons from this pandemic and, expecting the unexpected is one of them.
An unexpected symptom of this disease that has claimed 3 million lives globally is Hair Loss.
But is hair loss due to the virus or, is it the body’s natural response to stress, both emotional and physical? Below is an in-depth discussion on whether SARS-CoV-2 is responsible for hair loss.
The technical term for hair loss in women is known as “Telogen effluvium” (TE). There are case studies* that link the loss of hair post-covid-19. Regardless, it still is a rarity among the population at large. A study conducted in November 2020* highlighted how some COVID patients have prolonged symptoms or late onset of symptoms.
These usually manifest as dyspnea, fatigue, cough, and dysosmia. The study also highlighted that patients that recovered from COVID-19 reported severe hair loss a few months after the onset of the disease. The study concluded that 24% of COVID survivors reported a loss in hair.
Alopecia is a late-onset symptom of COVID-19. Its cause is unknown but, telogen effluvium is a possibility.
Telogen Effluvium and COVID-19
Consistent post-Covid hair loss is called Telogen Effluvium (TE). It is viewed, as hair loss but, in fact, is hair shedding. TE happens when more hair than normal entry into the shedding phase of the hair growth cycle at the same time.
Individuals with TE report a sudden loss of hair where it falls out in large clumps amidst showering or brushing. Hair loss is seen after 2 to 3 months post-Covid and lasts at least six to nine months in individuals. But what is its relation to COVID?
Fever is one of the common symptoms of this virus and one of the potential triggers for TE. Stress is another symptom of covid-19 and also one that triggers TE. Covid-19 is no ordinary virus, it puts you through a physical and emotional wringer. Studies also show that “quarantine blues”- stress due to self-isolation also triggered TE in some people.
Under normal circumstances, our hair is in different phases of the hair growth cycle. About 5% is in the shedding phase, 10% in the resting phase and, the remaining is in a growth phase. But when the body goes through a fever or illness, it shifts all its energy towards “life-sustaining” functions and, hair growth is not one of them. During this time, 50% of your hair shifts to the resting phase (the hair shaft becomes dormant). It lasts two to three months, and then eventually, the hair sheds itself, and patients panic when they see clumps of hair in their brushes and showers.
This delayed response does make it hard to relate it specifically to COVID, Especially among “long haulers” – people whose symptoms aren’t going away after a few weeks.
Not to worry though, telogen effluvium is a temporary ailment. Your hair will go back to normal with time and start re-growing. You will visibly see short hairs very close to your hairline. As mentioned above, it takes six to nine months for the hair to bounce back.
Regardless, if it prolongs, don’t hesitate to get it checked out by a dermatologist.
How to Cope With Hair Loss Post COVID?
Sudden onset of hair loss is a disturbing experience. People are attached to their hair. It’s a part of their personality. Most people turn to supplements to restore their hair but don’t see the results they aim for.
For starters, changes in lifestyle and grooming practices can aid in the regrowth of healthy hair. You can start by avoiding hairstyles that tug on your hair, minimize brushing, and invest in hair-damaging treatments like perms.
It is best to switch up your shampoo as well. Minoxidil (Rogaine) is readily available in drugstores. It helps in hair regrowth and is sold as a shampoo, liquid, or foam.
Another habit you can incorporate for the better is taking your vitamins daily. Fish oil and vitamin D are excellent for hair growth and overall nutrition.
And lastly, don’t let the stress of hair loss get the best of you. Invest in stress-busting activities such as meditation, yoga, or any form of exercise according to your lifestyle. Keep up with good nutrition and sleep alongside to see your hair better and healthier.