Unusual hair loss was recently added to the growing list of COVID-19 side effects, but modern treatments offer hope.
New reports detail hair loss as a potential complication of COVID-19. Symptoms of hair loss include gradual thinning of the hair, loosening of hair, and patches of missing hair on the scalp. Fortunately, there are safe and effective options like Finasteride on the market that treat hair loss.
Hair loss can be stressful and confusing. This article provides an overview of hair loss, its link to COVID-19, and effective hair loss treatments.
Who is Reporting Hair Loss?
A survey conducted in July 2020 revealed alarming side effects among patients who recovered from COVID-19. Out of 1,567 people surveyed, 423 people reported hair loss. The majority of those who reported hair loss also reported having recovered from COVID-19 within a two to three month timeframe.
Additional reports of hair loss have also been made by frontline workers and caregivers. Interestingly, these were people providing care throughout the pandemic, but who have not tested positive for the virus.
What Type of Hair Loss is This?
Two types of hair loss have been reported in relation to COVID-19. The two main types are telegon effluvium and alopecia areata.
Telegon effluvium is hair loss caused by an abnormal shift in follicular cycling. It is non-scarring hair loss where people shed more than 50-100 strands of hair per day. It typically takes place after a particularly stressful event.
Things that can trigger telegon effluvium include, but are not limited to:
- Certain prescription medications
- Changes to diet or weight
- Major surgery
- Psychological stress
- Traumatic events (e.g. car accident)
Alopecia areata is hair loss caused by the immune system attacking the hair follicles. Hair will typically fall out in small patches, sometimes connecting to reveal larger areas of the scalp. This type of hair loss can also occur elsewhere on the body, such as the eyebrows or eyelashes.
Alopecia areata is considered an immune condition. Its exact causes are currently undetermined. Over time, hair may grow back without treatment. However, this condition can also lead to alopecia universalis, which is total hair loss.
Telegon effluvium is short-term, typically lasting less than six months. However, alopecia areata is typically long-term, with the extent varying from person to person. A dermatologist can help someone to determine the type of hair loss they are experiencing by performing a physical exam.
What is Contributing to the Hair Loss?
Extreme stress is likely a main culprit in many of the hair loss cases connected to COVID-19. Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, has witnessed COVID-19 patients, patients without COVID-19, and frontline workers experiencing hair loss in surprising numbers. Additional dermatologists have reported an uptick in hair loss reports throughout the pandemic.
Dr. Khetarpal stated, “There are so many pandemic-related stresses. There’s financial stress, concern for ill family members, anxiety about contracting the virus, social isolation and changes related to working and schooling from home. We are absolutely seeing hair loss in non-COVID patients that seems related to pandemic stress.”
How Do You Know if You Have Hair Loss?
Approximately 50% of people will experience hair loss by age 50. Hair loss can affect the scalp and other areas of the body. Hair loss can be temporary or permanent, depending on the underlying cause.
Most people lose 50 to 100 hairs per day. Significant hair loss occurs when hair growth does not replace or keep pace with daily hair loss. Anyone who notices a sudden increase in hair loss may wish to speak with a medical provider to determine the underlying cause.
Categories of hair loss include:
|Gradual Thinning||This is the most common sign of hair loss. Thinning typically takes place on the top of the head. Thinning traditionally increases with age.|
|Sudden Loosening of Hair||Handfuls of hair come out easily while washing, brushing, or combing. This can contribute to overall thinning of hair, but it is usually temporary. This hair loss is often associated with extreme stress.|
|Patches of Scaling||Broken hair, redness, swelling, and sores are common signs of ringworm. This hair loss is not associated with stress or genetic conditions.|
|Patches of Bald Spots||Losing hair in circular patches on the scalp, eyebrows, or anywhere else on the body could be a sign of an underlying condition. The skin surrounding the affected areas may become itchy prior to hair loss.|
|Full Body Hair Loss||Losing hair across all areas of the body is often caused by medical treatments (e.g. chemotherapy).|
How Can You Recover from Hair Loss?
The good news is that many forms of hair loss are treatable. Treating underlying conditions can reverse some types of hair loss. Most current treatments aim to reverse or slow hair loss.
People suffering from temporary hair loss due to an underlying condition or stress may experience regrowth without treatment. People suffering from hereditary hair loss may benefit from prescription medications or surgery. Some medications can even help to regrow lost hair.
Treatment options include:
- Treatment of Underlying Conditions. Nutrition, iron deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, or chronic stress can contribute to hair loss. A doctor can help someone to identify these causes and create an effective treatment plan.
- Laser Treatment. Low-level laser therapy may help to reduce inflammation within follicles that prevent hair from regrowing.
- Surgical Hair Restoration. Hair transplants are surgical procedures where a dermatologist will transplant hair from the back of the head to the top of the scalp. This may require multiple treatments.
- Minoxidil (Rogaine). This topical treatment is over the counter. It comes in liquid, shampoo, and foam form. It can help some people to slow hair loss and promote hair growth, but it takes approximately six months to take effect.
- Finasteride (Propecia). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved this prescription drug for use in men. It is taken daily to slow hair loss and encourage hair growth. It takes several months of consistent use to be effective. It is the only approved treatment for androgenic alopecia.
Men should speak to a medical provider about potential underlying conditions prior to taking medication for hair loss. They should also speak with a provider to determine the best course of treatment for their hair loss. Prescription medication is typically best for men with male pattern baldness.
Shelby is a public health professional with research and field experience in sexual and reproductive health. She holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).