For a number of people who caught Covid, hair loss is still affecting them long after the virus has passed itself. Here’s how long it lasts and what you can do to treat it.
In the early days of the pandemic, where lockdown restrictions were enforced and most were confined to a strict five kilometer radius when venturing outdoors, all we could think about were the consequences of catching Covid-19. Along with the fear of spreading it to those with pre-existing health conditions and the elderly, the list of side-effects was lengthy and drew great concern. There was the ambiguity of long Covid, with so much uncertainty surrounding the health condition and just why it presented in some people and not others, and for many who contracted Covid, there was also hair loss, leaving them feeling confused and concerned.
Given that we’re now two years into the pandemic, the mystery surrounding some side effects has garnered greater attention from researchers and scientists around the world, shedding greater insight into the virus that has come to grip the world. When it comes to hair loss, the good news is that for most people, hair loss after Covid-19 is not permanent, but rather a unique type of shedding that occurs due to a connection to the coronavirus.
Research suggests that the hair loss associated with Covid-19 is telogen effluvium, a condition in which hair sheds in response to a stressor. Considered the most common type of generalized hair loss, telogen effluvium isn’t only caused by viruses, but can also be a side effect to certain medications, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal abnormalities and stressful events. According to a 2020 study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, approximately 1 in 10 people infected with Covid-19 experienced hair shedding. In these instances, it’s not the virus itself that causes the hair shedding, but rather the stress placed on the body as it fights the virus. The stress that triggers telogen effluvium can be physical – in the case of major surgery, illness or an accident – or emotional, such as the death of a loved one or a breakup.
In the case of Covid-19, people are not only grappling with the physical stress placed on the body as a result of the virus, but also the mental anxiety that arises from diagnosis. While it’s safe to say that there has been something of a return to normal in recent months thanks to widespread vaccine uptake, the fact remains that Covid-19 is still something of an unknown and therefore it can be alarming for many to test positive, particularly when early information from the media was so bleak, presenting only an escalating number of cases.
Dermatologists note that in the case of Covid-19-related hair loss, it doesn’t occur at the point of diagnosis. Instead, you can likely see the effect three months after contracting Covid-19, at which point you might notice hair all over your bathroom floor or an excessive amount in your hairbrush. It may also feel thinner or finer when brushing. While it sounds concerning to have recovered from Covid-19 only to find your hair falling out three months later, it’s important to note that it usually isn’t permanent. Often with telogen effluvium, the hair growth cycle normalizes and all the hair should grow back. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, hair will likely regain normal fullness after telogen effluvium within six to nine months, although some may find it takes longer for their hair to reach its previous strength.
When grappling with telogen effluvium, the key is to avoid further damage that may be caused by heat styling or chemical processes like highlighting. You want to avoid hairstyles that put tension on the hair and also ensure that you are meeting all nutritional requirements so as not to exacerbate hair loss due to deficiencies. Talk to a doctor to check your vitamin D and iron, which can also be common deficiencies associated with hair loss. Practicing self-care is also imperative and if you find yourself unable to relax given what’s going on, consider reaching out for help or consulting a therapist.