Can COVID-19 affect our hair?
At any given time, about 85% to 90% of the hairs on the average person’s head are actively growing, this is called the anagen phase, and the others 10-15% are resting (the telogen phase). Typically, a hair is in the anagen phase for two to four years, then enters the telogen phase, rests for about two to four months, and then falls out and is replaced by a new, growing hair. The average person naturally loses about 100 hairs a day.
Major psychological stress, which is not uncommon during this pandemic, but also people who have been affected by the virus are some major triggers that can affect the aforementioned hair growth cycle.
This is recognized as a ‘shock’ for the body and pushes more hairs into the resting phase. This condition is called telogen effluvium. Around 30% of the hairs stop growing and go into the resting phase before falling out. So if you have telogen effluvium, you may lose an average of 300 hairs a day instead of 100.
Other triggers can also be:
- Major physical trauma
- Extreme weight loss
- The extreme change in diet
- Abrupt hormonal changes, including those associated with childbirth and menopause
- Iron deficiency
- Hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism
- Some medications
Because hairs that enter the telogen phase rest in place for two to four months before falling out, you may not notice any hair loss until two to four months after the event that caused the problem. So you will notice that your hair might start falling out 2-4 months after you recovered from COVID-19 or 2-4 months after the emotional stress. Telogen effluvium rarely lasts longer than six months, although some cases last longer.
COVID-19: Although losing a great number of hairs within a short time can be frightening, the condition is usually temporary. Each hair that is pushed prematurely into the telogen phase is replaced by a new, growing hair, so there is no danger of complete baldness. Because the hair on the scalp grows slowly, your hair may feel or look thinner than usual for a time, but fullness will return as the new hairs grow in.
COVID-19: If you have telogen effluvium, you’ll notice more hair than usual accumulating on your pillowcase, on the shower or bathroom floor, and in your hairbrush. Your scalp hair may feel or look less dense than usual. Often, though, the hair loss is subtle, and other people may not notice anything different about your hair.
Most cases of telogen effluvium can be diagnosed based on medical history and an examination of the scalp and hair. If the hair loss has been occurring for several months, there may be visible thinning patches, but often the hair loss is not dramatic enough for a doctor to notice.
If you have large bald patches, you probably don’t have telogen effluvium. If the doctor gently tugs on some hairs on your scalp and four or more hairs come out, you probably have telogen effluvium.
Also, the hairs will look like hairs in the telogen phase — they will have a white bulb at the end that was in the scalp, and will not have a gel-like covering around that end of the hair.
Your doctor also may do blood tests to check for conditions such as thyroid abnormalities that may be contributing to hair loss.
Nothing can be done to prevent most of the types of physical shock that can start telogen effluvium. Some cases may be caused by a poor diet, and these might be prevented by eating a balanced diet that provides enough protein, iron, and other nutrients.
No treatment for active telogen effluvium has been proven effective.
COVID-19: Some causes of the disorder can be corrected. For example, if you have a poor diet, consult a dietitian to help you balance it. If the hair loss began after you started a new medication, talk to your doctor to see if the medication should be discontinued.
Many times, however, the cause is a specific event in the past, and you can expect that the hair will grow back. In cases where hair growth has not returned to a satisfactory level, your doctor may prescribe topical minoxidil (Regaine), a lotion applied to the scalp that may stimulate hair growth in some people.
The outlook for telogen effluvium is very good. Most cases run their course within six to nine months, and the hair usually grows back. In some cases, the disorder may last longer. In other cases, not all hairs grow back.