COVID-19 could cause your hair to fall out
Hair loss may be a side effect of the coronavirus, according to a recent survey of people who experienced long-term COVID-19 symptoms.
Dr. Natalie Lambert from Indiana University School of Medicine conducted the survey along with Survivor Corps, a nonprofit grassroots movement that aims to educate COVID-19 survivors and connect them with resources for recovery.
Survivor Corps founder Diana Berrent posted a survey on the group's Facebook page, asking COVID-19 survivors to share which symptoms they experienced. The survey's symptom list was based on initial COVID-19 research conducted by Lambert and Dr. Wendy Chung of Colombia University Irving Medical Center.
Lambert collected and analyzed over 1,500 responses. The respondents were people suffering from long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms, colloquially known as "long haulers," Lambert writes in the study. She notes that their report is based on the "reported experiences" of patients and is not a peer-reviewed scientific study.
The researchers found that "long haulers' COVID-19 symptoms are far more numerous than what is currently listed on the CDC's website," Lambert writes.
The most common symptom was fatigue, followed by muscle or body aches, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Many also reported effects on the brain like difficulty concentrating or memory issues.
Another noteworthy finding was that over 400 patients said they experienced hair loss.
"Attention needs to be given to symptoms experienced by long haulers in additional parts of the body including the brain, whole body, joints, hair, skin and eyes," the researchers said in a press release.
In all, the survey listed 98 symptoms, including lesser-known issues like weight gain, clogged ears, dry eyes and rash, which do not appear on the CDC's official list of COVID-19 symptoms.
Many members of the Survivor Corps Facebook group have posted about their hair loss after battling COVID-19, asking others for advice.
In July, one woman posted that ever since she was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March, her hair had been falling out in "massive clumps!"
"My hair is so thin and looks like there isn't an end in sight to this hair shedding," she wrote.
Another woman posted that she tested positive in March and April but has since recovered. "But the reason I'm posting is, for the last month, my hair has been falling out in large clumps every day," she wrote. "I had long, thick hair, but now it's very thin. I've been so sad about it." The woman shared several photos of clumps of hair she said fell out of her head.
There are many other posts on the Survivor Corps Facebook page from women asking if others had experienced similar hair loss. "I was sick in early April and very thankful I beat this brutal disease. But the last month I am rapidly losing my amazing hair," one woman wrote in July. "It is freaking me out. I'm making an appointment at the dermatologist this week. I just had a physical all my bloods are good. Holy Crap I'm going bald!"
Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, says there have been an increased number of reports of hair loss from COVID-19 patients.
"We are seeing patients who had COVID-19 two to three months ago and are now experiencing hair loss. I think the timing is really crucial," Dr. Khetarpal said in a Cleveland Clinic report.
According to Cleveland Clinic, a phenomenon called telogen effluvium is to blame. It is a form of non-scarring hair loss that results from an abnormal shift in follicular cycling.
"Essentially, it is a temporary hair loss from excessive shedding due to a shock to the system," Khetarpal said. "There are several common triggers, such as surgery, major physical or psychological trauma, any kind of infection or high fever, extreme weight loss or a change in diet."
Telogen, or shedding, is one of the three phases of the hair follicle growth cycle. Most people shed between 50 to 100 hairs each day. However, in telogen effluvium, the proportion of hair follicles in the telogen phase increases significantly — up to 50%, according to Cleveland Clinic. This leads to mass shedding.
There's generally a two- to three-month lag between a stressful event and the onset of hair loss, which is "why we're seeing these patients now, several weeks after COVID-19 symptoms resolve," Khetarpal said.
"Telogen effluvium isn't a symptom of COVID-19 as much as it is a consequence of the infection," she added. The hair loss can last for up to six to nine months, but generally resolves on its own.
Cleveland Clinic lists other risk factors that could cause this hair loss, and offers some advice on how to manage it, including maintaining normal hair care routines and eating a nutritious diet.
Khetarpal adds that people who have not tested positive for COVID-19 could also experience hair loss during the pandemic due to stress.
"There are so many pandemic-related stresses. There's financial stress, concern for ill family members, anxiety about contracting the virus, social isolation and changes related to working and schooling from home," she said. "We are absolutely seeing hair loss in non-COVID patients that seems related to pandemic stress."
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