Hair loss is one of the lesser -known symptoms of Post-COVID or long COVID. Although not as debilitating as other symptoms, sudden and severe hair shedding can have serious psychological effects on those afflicted. Excessive hair loss can lead to low self-esteem, feelings of shame, social phobia, depression, and anxiety.
But all hope is not lost. For most people, COVID-related hair loss is temporary. If you or someone you know is suffering from temporary hair shedding after COVID-19, keep reading. In this guide, we answer some of the most common questions about COVID-related hair loss, including how long it lasts, whether vaccines are to blame, and if there are ways to stop it.
What causes hair loss?
Hair loss can be caused by a multitude of factors and conditions, including:
- Androgenetic alopecia, a hereditary condition more commonly known as male-pattern baldness
- Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair to fall out in large clumps
- Traction alopecia, a kind of baldness caused by wearing high-tension hairstyles
- Chemotherapy and radiation treatment
- Hormonal imbalance
- Scalp infection
- Scalp psoriasis
- Hair pulling or trichotillomania
- Thyroid disease
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Scalp damage from constant use of harsh chemical treatments
- Stress and trauma
Why does Post-COVID hair loss occur?
For the most part, Post-COVID hair loss happens because of something called telogen effluvium.
Telogen effluvium is a medical term that describes non-scarring hair shedding that is triggered by a stressor. One of the most common types of hair loss, it is provoked by stressful events, nutrient deficiency, hormonal changes, certain types of medication, trauma, and viral infections.
In the case of post-COVID patients, the stressor is not the SARS-CoV-2 virus per se but the impact that a systemic infection such as COVID-19 can have on the body. COVID-19 puts patients in a heightened state of inflammation, which can prematurely push hairs into the shedding phase of the growth cycle. Aside from physical stress, the mental toll of being critically ill, hospitalization, adjusting to a ‘new normal’, and contending with the side effects of long COVID can all contribute to hair loss.
To better illustrate how telogen effluvium occurs after COVID, here is a brief explainer of how the hair growth cycle works:
All hair follicles undergo three phases: the growth phase (anagen), the regressing phase (catagen), and the resting phase (telogen). The last phase is the period in which hair sheds.
When telogen effluvium is triggered (or when a patient undergoes immense stress), over 30% of the hairs in the growing phase suddenly enter the resting or telogen phase. At this point, the resting hairs fall out and cease to grow for up to six months.
What does COVID-19 hair loss look like?
COVID-19 hair loss is characterized by a relatively abrupt onset and rapid hair shedding.
For long COVID patients, telogen effluvium doesn’t happen during or immediately after they get infected with COVID-19. Most patients start losing their hair around three months after recovering from COVID. Usually, enough time will have passed between the initial infection and the early stages of hair shedding that patients don’t immediately make the connection between the two.
Telogen effluvium happens rapidly, resulting in severe hair loss over a short period. While it’s normal for most people to lose about 100 hairs a day, those going through telogen effluvium can lose anywhere between 300 and 1,000 hairs per day.
How long does Post-COVID hair loss last?
Post-COVID hair loss can last anywhere between three months to up to two years.
Acute telogen effluvium is characterized as short-term hair loss that occurs for about three to six months. After this period, the patient’s hair usually grows back to its normal fullness.
Chronic telogen effluvium occurs when patients experience continuous hair shedding for more than six months. Sometimes, patients experience fluctuating periods of hair shedding over several years. Chronic telogen effluvium is more likely to affect those experiencing other long COVID symptoms, as the ongoing stress of the condition can continue exacerbating hair fall.
On the upside, telogen effluvium does not scar the scalp. This means that hair can grow back on its own over time.
Does the COVID-19 vaccine cause hair loss?
At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine triggers hair loss.
Hair loss after COVID is not often talked about and can happen months after infection. As such, some people may mistakenly correlate the COVID-19 vaccine with increased shedding. But, in actuality, a 2020 study found that roughly 1 in 10 people who were infected with COVID experience hair loss.
Is there a way to stop hair loss after COVID-19?
Telogen effluvium can be difficult to predict. And, once it starts, the best thing you can do is be patient and wait for it to pass.
However, there are things you can do to reduce or prevent further hair loss, including:
Avoid unwanted stress
Telogen effluvium is triggered by stress. While you may not be able to remove the risk of contracting COVID-19 completely (even if you take precautions), you can take a more proactive approach towards avoiding or minimizing other sources of stress in your life. For example, if a demanding job is leaving you feeling exhausted and burnt out, try setting clear boundaries between your work life and your home life.
Practicing self-care can also do wonders for alleviating stress. Activities such as mindfulness meditation, exercise, journaling, reading, and going to therapy can all help lower your stress levels.
Maintain a healthy Diet
For some people, hair falling is a sign of a nutritional deficiency. Aside from maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, you can also consult with your doctor about getting tested for any potential nutrient deficiencies. Many people fail to get enough vitamin D and iron, which can lead to hair thinning and loss.
Follow healthy hair care practices
If you ‘are already experiencing hair loss, you can take steps towards protecting the rest of your hair from falling out. Make sure to avoid heat styling and chemical processes that can burn your hair, as well as tight hairstyles that can put too much tension on your hair and scalp.
Treating long-term Post-COVID hair loss
Post-COVID hair loss often resolves itself on its own. However, if you notice that your hair loss hasn’t improved after six to nine months, you may need to seek the advice of a healthcare provider that specializes in your condition.
A dermatologist can recommend medication that can promote hair growth like minoxidil. Dermatologists can also order tests to check if you are deficient in a particular nutrient and recommend the right supplements to address your deficiency.
The bottom line
If you are experiencing post-COVID hair loss, don’t panic! It’s normal to lose a bit of hair after any major stressor, and, fortunately, there are ways to treat long-term hair loss. See your doctor if you are concerned and try some of the tips above to help prevent further hair loss.
If you cannot understand what you are going through and why your hair loss experience is persistent, talk to us. We offer Post-COVID support for those who feel helpless and hopeless during these pandemic.