Many Covid-19 survivors are reporting that several months after contracting the virus, they began shedding startling amounts of hair. Doctors, too, are seeing many more patients with hair loss, affecting both people who had the virus and those who never became sick.
The likely reason, they say, is stress — not from the virus itself, but from the physiological stress of fighting it off or the emotional stress of job loss, financial strain, deaths of family members or other devastating pandemic-related developments.
“There’s many, many stresses in many ways surrounding this pandemic, and we’re still seeing hair loss because a lot of the stress hasn’t gone away,” said Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal, an associate professor of dermatology at the Cleveland Clinic.
There are two types of hair loss the pandemic seems to be triggering, doctors say.
In one condition, called telogen effluvium, people shed much more than the typical 50-to-100 hairs per day, usually beginning several months after a stressful experience.
The other condition is alopecia areata, in which the immune system attacks hair follicles, usually starting with a patch of hair on the scalp or beard. Some people, especially Covid-19 patients who experienced an elevated immune response, may progress quickly from one or two bald patches to losing hair all over the body, including eyebrows and eyelashes, doctors say.
Doctors say telogen effluvium is usually temporary, but can last months. With alopecia areata, some cases resolve without treatment and some are helped by steroid injections, but some can become permanent, especially if not treated early.
They recommend good nutrition, vitamins like biotin and stress-reduction techniques like yoga, scalp massage or mindfulness meditation. Some recommend minoxidil, a hair-growth drug, but caution that it can initially cause more hair loss before it starts working. For people depressed or traumatized by hair loss, doctors recommend psychotherapy, but not necessarily medication because some antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can exacerbate hair loss.