COVID Hair Loss

It has become increasingly more difficult to estimate the total incidence of COVID-19 because it has become under-reported. Due to improved technology, we are no longer rushing to our doctor’s offices, health departments, and emergency departments for testing - we have antigen tests at home or maybe not even testing at all.

By best estimates, there have been approximately 653,183,474 worldwide cases of COVID and 6,665,931 worldwide deaths caused by COVID.

After-Effects of COVID

After recovering from COVID, many people have no symptoms. They are able to return to their normal lives and function at their baseline. Others, however, develop post-COVID symptoms, or what some doctors call “long COVID” or “post-COVID conditions.”

People who develop post-COVID conditions can suffer a wide range of symptoms that may go on for days, weeks, or even months. These symptoms are more likely if COVID symptoms are more severe or if the person was unvaccinated, though this is not always the case.

The most commonly reported post-COVID symptoms include:

  • Brain fog.
  • Headaches.
  • Fatigue.
  • Malaise.
  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Change in taste or smell.
  • Depression or anxiety.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Joint pain.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Menstrual changes.

But what about hair loss? Is this a commonly experienced symptom of COVID?

As it turns out - yes! According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is incredibly common for hair to shed a couple of months after having COVID. This hair shedding can last upwards of nine months after recovering from COVID.

Why Does COVID Cause Hair Loss?

The American Academy of Dermatology notes that there is a specific name for the type of hair shedding caused by COVID - it is called telogen effluvium. It can be defined as “...more hairs than normal enter the shedding (telogen) phase of the hair growth lifecycle at the same time. A fever or illness can force more hairs into the shedding phase.”

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In one small research study, the use of certain medications to treat COVID, such as azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine, may also have increased the likelihood of developing telogen effluvium.

Occasionally, chronic telogen effluvium may develop; this occurs when hair shedding lasts beyond six months and is typical in long COVID patients. In these cases, medical treatment is used to treat hair loss.

Another reason that COVID can cause hair loss is stress. Those who have not even had COVID may experience stress-related hair loss, causing a cycle - seeing the hair fall out causes more stress, which leads to more stress.

How Many People are Experiencing Hair Loss?

This type of hair loss is not unique to COVID. It can occur for a variety of reasons - childbirth, extreme emotional events, malnutrition, hormonal imbalances, blood loss, surgery, and illness. However, researchers have found that those with a history of COVID are four times more likely to have telogen effluvium than those without a history of COVID.

How to Treat COVID-Related Hair Loss

There are a variety of COVID hair loss treatments available. The treatment selected will depend on the length of hair loss as well as the severity of hair loss.

The most commonly prescribed treatment is watchful waiting; this can be a hard “pill” to swallow because we’re the ones noting our ever-thinning hair. However, as many experts point out, telogen effluvium is almost always a self-limiting condition and rebounds within several months.

When telogen effluvium becomes chronic and treatment is warranted, many dermatologists prescribe minoxidil topically or in pill form. Minoxidil is better known as Rogaine. However, there is a caveat - this medication can sometimes cause increased shedding before it starts to work. It is because it essentially “resets” hair cycles back to normal.

Treatment of stress is essential as stress plays a large factor in hair loss. Dr. Luis Garza, a professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, states, “One thing I tell patients who come in for hair loss is that they might benefit from seeing a therapist because we know that stress causes hair loss and hair loss also adds to stress. Hair is a huge component of our identity.”

Experts also recommend taking supplements with caution; supplements have not been regulated by the FDA, so there is no way of knowing if what the label is saying is accurate.

During the hair regrowth period, it is prudent to treat your hair with extreme care. Wash your hair gently. Avoid using heat tools such as hair dryers, straighteners, and blow dryers. Avoid tight ponytails and braids as they will put unneeded tension on your hair. As Dr. Arash Mostaghimi, director of dermatology inpatient services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston says, “The majority of my patients who came to me at the beginning of the pandemic are already doing better. Their hair has recovered, and they are able to express themselves with their hair the way that they want.”