In this article we will discuss hair loss after COVID – the causes and the best remedies. Now that we are (hopefully) past the worst of the COVID pandemic, physicians, health care workers and researchers can now change their focus from saving lives in overburdened ICU wards to dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic. And a large portion of this aftermath is long COVID – understanding what it is, what the symptoms are and how it can be treated. A recent study comparing the symptoms of COVID from patients who were diagnosed with the Omicron variant within 4 weeks of the study (the acute group) to those that were diagnosed greater than 4 weeks from the time of the study (the post-acute group) indicated these two groups had completely different symptoms. While the acute group displayed predominantly respiratory symptoms, the post-acute group suffered from decreased attention, blurred vision, fatigue, sexual dysfunction depression, and hair loss. Summarizing the data from several studies from COVID patients 1 year after discharge, alopecia was found to be the 7th most common symptom following others that one might expect: shortness of breath, fatigue, concentration and sleeping problems and anxiety.
So why am I experiencing hair loss after being diagnosed with COVID? Well, one possible reason relates to a common COVID symptom that likely led you to get tested in the first place – you had a fever. It is quite normal for hair loss episodes to be triggered 2-3 months after a high fever, but technically speaking it is not hair loss, but rather hair shedding. It is also known as telogen effluvium and since the condition does not affect the hair follicle itself, the good news is your hair will recover. It occurs when more than the normal amount (usually just a few percent) of hair enters the resting (telogen) phase of the hair growth cycle. However, in cases of illnesses such as COVID or other viral infections, a higher percentage of hair may enter this telogen phase of the hair cycle and you will notice increased hair shedding for up to 6-9 months post COVID diagnosis. But fever is not the only trigger. Stress, hormonal changes and vitamin deficiencies can also lead to telogen effluvium, and as we know physical and emotional stress are common symptoms of many people that contracted COVID and/or continue to be suffering from the effects of long COVID. And even those that were lucky enough to escape COVID, many likely suffered from stress and anxiety about loved ones, their jobs and the mental stresses associated with lockdowns.
However, there are causes of hair loss known as alopecia, which has several forms and does affect the hair follicle. Androgenic alopecia is usually observed as balding patterns and is largely genetic in nature though hormones can also play a role. It is the most common form. Symptoms of another form of alopecia, alopecia areata, are patchy regions of hair loss or even full baldness. It is brought on by an autoimmune disorder where the body mistakenly sends a signal to attack healthy hair follicles rather than some form of disease. The “cytokine storm” that you may have heard of during the pandemic and that led to so many deaths is very similar in nature – an out-of-control immune response. Although it is tempting to link alopecia areata and COVID on this basis, it remains difficult to directly link cases of alopecia areata with the virus because, like telogen effluvium described above, alopecia areata can be initiated by other factors such as stress and hormonal changes.
Finally, traction alopecia refers to the situation where people subject their hair follicles to constant tensional forces by wearing their hair in styles such as tight ponytails, or by using hair extensions, and its effects can be made worse through use of chemicals and heat. Given that there are so many stress and anxiety related factors that can contribute to hair loss or shedding post-COVID, additional factors that can also contribute to hair loss which are easily avoidable, such as those that lead to traction alopecia should be halted.
So what are the best remedies for hair loss after COVID you might ask? The first thing is to attempt to remove the cause of any lingering or long COVID symptoms. If you are feeling stressed or anxious, seek out support for your mental well-being any way you can – through family, support phone lines or by speaking with you doctor about it. As we discussed, stress can exacerbate telogen effluvium and like they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Next, maintain proper nutrition levels through your diet, and then consider if supplementation might be necessary. The reason for maintaining proper nutrition levels is two-fold. To help boost your immune system to help fend off any remaining symptoms of COVID and to rejuvenate healthy hair growth. And which nutrients will help the most with this? Many are contained in our supplement ingredients list. Vitamin D for one, as there is a known correlation between vitamin D deficiencies and telogen effluvium. The same is true for zinc. We already know that vitamin E is a very effective anti-oxidant and can therefore combat oxidative attack on hair follicles. Vitamin B7, or biotin, is purported to be an important supplement for rejuvenated hair growth, but here a bit of caution is advised. Most of the evidence suggests its greatest effectiveness is only observed when taken by those that are biotin deficient. However, the great majority of us obtain sufficient biotin through our diets, with the possible exceptions of pregnant or lactating mothers.
Take away message
In this article we discussed hair loss after COVID - the causes and the best remedies. If you find yourself suffering from hair loss after fending off COVID, chances are quite high that you need not stress yourself out about it. The great majority of people suffering hair loss after COVID suffer from telogen effluvium, a condition where slightly more of your hair is portioned into the resting or telogen stage of the hair growth cycle than usual and sheds itself. This was quite likely triggered by your body responding to the effects of COVID, such as a high fever (amongst other symptoms including stress, so try not to get stressed out if you observe some hair loss – it will only make matters worse). The same thing would likely happen if you had a “normal” flu bug. After a few months the hair will begin to rejuvenate, which can be encouraged by eating a healthy diet and supplementing if necessary.