The long-term effects of COVID-19 infection can cause painful symptoms, including loss of taste and smell, fatigue, and brain fog. Hair loss is also identified as a frequent symptom. Although this symptom could be the most frightening, it’s not long-lasting in most cases.
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Causes of hair loss
Hair loss sufferers due to SARS-CoV-2 infections may see hair clumps falling out of their daily combings or shampooing their hair. This phenomenon is called telogen effluvium.
Around 90 percent of the hairs on our scalps are in the growth phase, known as anagen. Approximately 10 percent of hair is in the resting stage, known as the telogen. The hair on our head anagen can last for around three years, after which hairs transition into telogen, lasting between 2 and 6 months. When telogen is over hairs, they are removed from their hair follicles. They are then replaced with new hairs. Then, the cycle of growth continues.
On average, we shed around 100-150 hair each day. However, when a person experiences stress-related events such as COVID-19, our bodies may prematurely shift a higher than usual proportion of anagen hairs growing into a telogen resting state.
“Up to 50 percent of hairs are resting and shedding, compared to the usual 10 percent, which is much higher than usual,” Says Powell Perng, MD, dermatologist, a specialist and expert in loss of hair (alopecia) at the University of Utah Health.
COVID-19 infection and hair loss
According to published reports, hair loss due to COVID-19 infections can happen slightly earlier than average. Instead of three months following an event that triggers it, the time frame could be two months. Some studies have also observed quicker recovery times, which range from two-three months, compared to a six to six months average.
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Treatment of a problem like hair loss takes patience and time. “The best thing we can do as providers is provided reassurance that this is a self-limited condition and that hair will recover,” Perng states.
Patients are given the tools to gauge their condition and track their improvement at home. For instance, patients may be asked to perform an hour-long hairbrush test and then collect hair to determine how much they lose daily. In time, patients can determine if their health is improving.
The process of prescribing medication can be a challenge, Perng explains, especially for patients suffering from severe telogen effluvium. In most cases, recovery of these patients occurs spontaneously and on its own, Perng explains. “Once you start taking hair growth medication, it’s difficult to stop the medication.”
As Perng is a dermatologist who does not take medications during the acute phase of a condition. But, he says that medications or other therapies are suitable for patients experiencing hair loss between four and six months after the onset.
Perng states that any hair loss is an enormous emotional stressor that could cause hair loss if it isn’t managed. It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious; Perng says that empowering patients to track their improvement at home and communicating the importance of managing stress can be crucial for a speedy recovery.