What We Know About Hair Loss and COVID-19


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We’re currently in the middle of a pandemic due to the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. This virus causes the disease COVID-19.

People who become ill with COVID-19 can have a wide variety of symptoms. Hair loss has been reported in people who have recovered from COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes hair loss as a potential long-term effect of COVID-19 that’s currently under investigation.

Below, we’ll discuss whether a SARS-CoV-2 infection can lead to hair loss, other symptoms to look out for, and when to talk with your doctor.

What does the research say?

Many reports of hair loss following COVID-19 have been seen in case studies. Because of this, how often it occurs in the larger population is currently unknown.

A November 2020 study investigated late-onset symptoms of COVID-19 in a small group of 63 participants. For the 58 participants included in the analysis, 14 (24.1 percent) reported hair loss.

In this study, the average time from COVID-19 symptom onset to noticeable hair loss was 58.6 days.

Hair loss resolved in five of the 14 participants. However, nine participants were still experiencing hair loss at the time they were interviewed.

Why could COVID-19 cause hair loss?

The hair loss that’s seen following COVID-19 is consistent with a condition called telogen effluvium (TE). People with TE report hair loss that comes on suddenly. Hair typically falls out in large clumps, often while brushing or showering.

Most people who develop TE have noticeable hair loss 2 to 3 months after a triggering event. This typically affects less than half of the scalp and lasts for 6 to 9 months. After this period, most people find that the lost hair regrows.

How does this relate to COVID-19? One of the potential triggers for TE is an acute illness with fever. People who’ve become ill with COVID-19 often experience fever as one of their symptoms.

Stress is another potential trigger for TE. Certainly, experiencing an illness like COVID-19 can cause both physical and emotional stress. In fact, TE has also been observed in some people due to the stresses of quarantining.

What’s the mechanism of TE?

Hair has different growth phases. TE happens when a stressor causes a large amount of hair to stop growing and enter into the resting (telogen) phase.

In the telogen phase, hairs rest for 2 to 3 months before being shed from your scalp to allow for new hair growth. This is why hair loss due to TE happens so long after a triggering event, such as an illness or highly stressful period.

What is hair loss?

We all naturally shed hair on a daily basis. In fact, it’s common for a person to shed 50 to 100 hairs per day.

However, sometimes the hair that’s shed isn’t replaced with new hair, eventually leading to hair thinning and bald patches. This is called hair loss.

We often think of hair loss as affecting only the scalp. However, it can occur on other parts of the body too.

The medical term for hair loss is alopecia.

Is hair loss associated with severe COVID-19?

It’s possible that hair loss may be associated with severe COVID-19. However, the extent to which this is the case and the biological mechanism behind it is unclear at this moment.

A May 2020 study evaluated 175 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Researchers observed that a high amount of participants (67 percent) had androgenic alopecia. It’s important to note that there was no control group in the study.

A July 2020 study compared balding patterns in 336 men hospitalized for COVID-19 and 1,605 men hospitalized without COVID-19. It found that men with the most pronounced pattern of baldness were more likely to test positive for COVID-19.

A November 2020 population study surveyed 43,565 people on topics like amount of hair loss, underlying health conditions, and COVID-19 status or outcome. It was found that hair loss was independently associated with more severe COVID-19 illness.

It’s important to reiterate that research on this topic is currently limited. Further investigation is needed to determine how hair loss may be associated with COVID-19 risk.

What are the most common reasons for hair loss?

The most common cause of hair loss is androgenic alopecia. You may also see this referred to as male or female pattern baldness.

This type of hair loss is hereditary, meaning that you can inherit it from your parents. Androgenic alopecia occurs gradually as you age and has predictable patterns for men and women.

Additional causes of hair loss can include:

  • hormonal changes, including those that occur during pregnancy and menopause, or due to thyroid conditions
  • underlying health conditions, like alopecia areata, hair-pulling disorder (trichotillomania), or scalp ringworm
  • stressors, as observed with telogen effluvium
  • iron deficiency or other nutritional deficiencies
  • some medications or therapies, such as those used to treat cancer, depression, and high blood pressure
  • grooming practices that pull on your hair (traction alopecia) or are harsh to your hair

How is hair loss diagnosed?

Often, hair loss naturally occurs as you age. But sometimes it can indicate an underlying health condition.

To determine whether hair loss is happening due to a health condition, your doctor will:

  • take your medical history, which can include questions about:
    • your family history
    • any preexisting health conditions
    • what medications you’re taking
    • how you groom your hair
    • your diet
  • perform a physical examination, which may include a pull test on a few dozen hairs to help determine how much hair is falling out
  • examine samples of your hair under a microscope
  • order blood tests, which can help identify health conditions that may cause hair loss

What you can do about hair loss

There are several potential treatments that your doctor may recommend for hair loss depending on its cause.

If an underlying health condition is causing hair loss, working to treat the condition may slow or stop your hair loss.

If medications are causing hair loss, your doctor may switch your medication or suggest that you stop using it for a few months.

Your doctor can prescribe some medications or procedures to treat androgenic alopecia. These are:

  • Finasteride (Propecia). Finasteride can be used by men to slow the rate of hair loss and stimulate new growth.
  • Spironolactone (CaroSpir, Aldactone). Spironolactone can be used in women to help slow hair loss and improve hair thickness.
  • Corticosteroid injections. Injecting corticosteroid medication into areas of thinning hair or baldness may be helpful for some types of hair loss, such as alopecia areata.
  • Hair transplants. During a hair transplant, a dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon removes hair from one part of your head and transplants it to an area of baldness.

What you can do at home

There are also some things you can do at home to help treat hair loss. Remember to always talk with your doctor before using any at-home treatment or supplement.

Lifestyle changes

Some grooming practices can contribute to hair loss. Aim to avoid things that are harsh on your hair, including:

  • pulling or tugging on your hair while brushing
  • wearing hairstyles that pull on hair, such as ponytails, hair extensions, and tight braids
  • having hair treatments that can damage hair, such as perms and hot-oil treatments

Minoxidil (Rogaine)

Minoxidil is available over the counter (OTC). Both men and women can use it to help regrow hair or to slow hair loss. You can find it in stores as a shampoo, liquid, or foam.

Devices

Things such as microneedling devices and laser combs or caps are available for at-home treatment of hair loss. The American Academy of Dermatology notes that trials have shown promising results, but more research is needed into their effectiveness.

Alternative treatments

Many alternative treatments for hair loss have been explored. While some show promise, more research is needed into their effectiveness. A few examples of alternative hair loss treatments are:

  • amino acids
  • vitamin D
  • fish oil
  • onion juice
  • rosemary oil
  • saw palmetto

It’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor before trying any supplements. Some supplements can interact with medications you may be taking.

When to see your doctor about your hair loss

Make an appointment with your doctor if you’re worried or distressed about your hair loss.

There are some signs that indicate an underlying health condition that needs treatment may be causing hair loss. See your doctor if you experience hair loss that:

  • comes on suddenly
  • causes hair to fall out in clumps
  • leads to patchy baldness
  • is accompanied by scalp itching or tenderness

What are other more common or typical symptoms of COVID-19?

COVID-19 has many potential symptoms. According to the CDC, the most common symptoms are:

  • fever
  • cough
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • body aches and pains
  • sore throat
  • losing your sense of smell or taste
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea and diarrhea

When to seek emergency care

Seek emergency medical care if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain or pressure
  • lips, face, or nails that look bluish
  • confusion
  • difficulty staying awake

COVID-19 Symptoms Usually Show Up in This Order

When should I get tested?

It’s important that you get tested for the coronavirus if:

  • You’re currently experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.
  • You’ve recently been in close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19, which means you were less than 6 feet away from them for 15 minutes or more.
  • Your healthcare provider asks you to get tested.

Visiting your state or local health department’s website can help you find a testing location. If you have any questions or concerns about finding a testing location, talk with your healthcare provider.

There are two types of tests that can detect an active coronavirus infection. These are referred to as diagnostic tests and include:

  • Molecular test. This test uses a technology called RT-PCR to detect viral nucleic acids in a sample collected from a nasal or throat swab. Saliva samples may also sometimes be used.
  • Antigen test. This test detects viral proteins in a sample collected by a nasal or throat swab. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these tests return results faster but are less accurate than the molecular test.

How long it takes to get results can depend on the type of test used. Keep in mind that if there’s a high testing volume in your area, it may take longer to get results.

Can you prevent COVID-19?

The new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is mainly transmitted through respiratory droplets. These can be produced when someone who has an infection coughs, sneezes, or talks. Less commonly, it’s spread through contact with contaminated surfaces.

You can take several steps in your daily life to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some of these include:

  • frequent handwashing
  • practicing physical (social) distancing
  • wearing a cloth mask when around other people
  • cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces in your home

CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19

The CDC also has many specific guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Some of these are:

  • Handwashing. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, you can use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. It’s especially important to wash your hands:

    • after being in public
    • before touching your face, mouth, or nose
    • after blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing
    • after taking care of someone who’s currently sick with COVID-19
    • after using the restroom or changing a diaper
    • after handling a mask or potentially contaminated laundry
    • before eating or handling food
  • Physical distancing. When outside your home, keep 6 feet between yourself and others. Avoid crowded places, large gatherings, and indoor spaces. Choose low-contact options for errands like curbside pickup or delivery.
  • Masks. Use a cloth mask to cover your nose and mouth. This is largely recommended for everyone ages 2 and over. Mask wearing is important when you’re:

    • going out in public
    • spending time with others outside of your household
    • sick with COVID-19 and are around others, such as in a household setting
    • caring for someone who’s currently sick with COVID-19
  • Cleaning and disinfecting. Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces on a daily basis. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list of disinfectants to use for the new coronavirus. Examples of high-touch surfaces are:

    • doorknobs
    • light switches
    • faucet handles
    • tabletops and countertops
    • appliance handles
    • phones and tablets
    • remotes and video game controllers
    • keyboards and mice

What are the best treatment options for COVID-19?

If you become sick with COVID-19, there are several different treatment options.

Which of them your doctor recommends will depend on the severity of your illness, and if you have health conditions that put you at risk of serious illness.

  • Rest. Resting can help your immune system manage the infection.
  • Fluids. Be sure to get enough fluids to avoid dehydration. If you’re hospitalized, fluids may be given by IV.
  • OTC medications. Medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can ease symptoms like fever, headache, and aches and pains.
  • Oxygen therapy. You may be given supplemental oxygen to help ensure that your body is receiving enough oxygen.
  • Remdesivir. Remdesivir is currently the only FDA approved antiviral drug to treat COVID-19. It inhibits the ability of the virus to multiply.
  • Dexamethasone. Dexamethasone is a steroid medication that can help calm an overactive immune response.
  • Monoclonal antibodies. Two monoclonal antibodies are approved by the FDA for emergency use in people at risk of serious illness. They attach to the virus, helping your immune system more effectively respond.

Learn more about where exactly we are with vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 here.

The bottom line

Some people may experience hair loss after being sick with COVID-19. This often occurs several weeks after other symptoms disappear.

Hair loss due to COVID-19 is likely due to a condition called telogen effluvium. Things like stress and being sick with a fever can trigger it. Most people with telogen effluvium regrow hair that’s been lost.

You can take several steps in your day-to-day life to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These include frequent handwashing, practicing physical distancing, and wearing a mask.


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