COVID-19 is creating significant changes in our bodies and in many different ways. For some people, it presents as just a cold or flu. For many others, it creates long term complications that do not seem to relate to what we think of as a respiratory illness. One of those concerns is with hair loss. Though there is no 100 percent accurate information just yet about the cause of hair loss as being related to the coronavirus, there are some interesting facts that you should know if you are losing hair after being exposed to COVID-19.
Why Does COVID Cause Hair Loss?
The technical term for this is telogen effluvium. The list of symptoms reported for COVID-19 does not include hair loss – the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not report that as an official symptom. But there are increasing numer of people who are seeing a significant amount of hair loss after having this condition. Often, this symptom does not present right away. Rather, in two to three months after having the virus, they begin to report hair loss. This is an important factor because of the hair growth cycle.
What Is Telogen Effluvium?
The technical term for what doctors believe is happening is called Telogen Effluvium. It is a type of nonscarring hair loss. It comes from the result of an abnormal shift in the hair growth cycle, also known as the follicular cycling process. It is not a new condition, but one that has happened for many people as a result of having a high stress event occur.
What is typically happening in these individuals is a temporary amount of hair loss. This comes in the form of excessive shedding. It is brought on suddenly and it is a significant shock to the body that COVID-19 or really any disease can have on you. There are many reasons this can happen. Giving birth is one. Another is having surgery. Other times there are changes in hormone levels, infections that result in a high fever, or even extreme weight loss. Even a change in your diet that is significant can lead to this.
Understanding the Hair Growth Cycle
The key word there is “temporary” because, for most people, this condition will improve once the hair growth cycle catches up. There are three phases to this cycle. The first is the growth phase, called anagen. Here, your hair is growing as normal. The second stage is resting or catagen. Here, your hair does not grow longer but remains in place. You do not recognize it as not growing because each hair follicle is on its own schedule. The final phase is the shedding phase or telogen phase.
Most of the time, about 90 percent of your hair strands are in the growth stage at any given time. About 5 percent are in each of the other phases. That is why you may not notice what is happening. However, when a sudden change in the body occurs that shocks the system, that results in telogen effluvium.
This is when a significant amount of hair loss occurs all at once. You notice it because it is a much higher amount of hair shed at one time. In some cases, up to 50 percent of your hair stands may be lost during this process. That leads to mass shedding.
In between the shedding phase and the start of new growth, there is some time. From the start of the stressful event until the hair begins, the growth stage can often be as long as two to three months (remember that figure noted previously?)
If you have had COVID-19 and you are not experiencing hair loss, be sure to let your doctor know. As noted, we do not know what the long term implications of this virus are, but based on the understanding of the growth phase and the fact that the hair follicles are not damaged during this process, it is safe to say most people will see their hair begin to regrow again. You may need to simply wait until your body heals and gets caught up with the hair loss it has experienced to see your hair start to grow as it did.