Hair loss has frequently been reported as a long-term aftereffect of COVID-19 infection. We don’t know the exact cause of this issue, but it’s probably related to the stress put on the body by the infection and recovery process. Medications that work well for male pattern hair loss, such as finasteride or Propecia, may not be effective for this kind of hair loss.
Despite almost a year of global pandemic and millions of cases around the world, the health problems caused by COVID-19 are still surprising us. Hair loss is among the long-term aftereffects seen in a growing number of patients after recovering COVID-19. This article will bring you up to speed on this unexpected side effect and whether it can be treated with common prescription hair loss medications like finasteride (Propecia).
Acute Versus Long-Term Symptoms
The symptoms of active COVID infection vary in magnitude, but they’re still somewhat predictable — loss of smell/taste, cough, chest pain, fever, etc.
It’s a different story for those who have recovered from COVID-19. Even after the virus has been cleared from a person’s body, there’s a long list of residual effects that we’ve been seeing in the months following the infection. A University of Indiana School of Medicine study surveyed thousands of COVID-19 survivors to see what long-term issues they were experiencing. They found that hair loss was reported by 32 percent of patients, a rate that put it in the first quartile of most common aftereffects.
While there isn’t strong evidence yet that hair loss is directly caused by the infection, there is a well-established association between hair loss and major stress/trauma that likely plays a significant role.
Hair Cycle: A Quick Refresher
Hair goes through three distinct phases during its lifespan — a three(ish)-month period of active growth (anagen), a transitional phase (catagen), and a resting phase (telogen). After around three months in the resting phase, the hair falls out to make room for a new one.
Usually, around 90 percent of the hairs on your head are in the active growth stage, with the remainder in transition or rest. At this rate, you lose about 100 hairs a day.
Being subjected to severe stress or shock can cause up to 30 percent of hairs to prematurely switch from active growth to the telogen, or resting, phase. This can lead to hair falling out three times faster than normal, a condition called telogen effluvium, or TE.
It’s thought that, in addition to any direct aftereffects of COVID-19, the process of recovering from the infection and the disruption it causes to normal life can trigger this kind of stress-induced hair loss.
Common Triggers for TE
- Major physical or psychological trauma
- High fever; severe infection or other illness
- Abrupt hormonal changes
- Extreme weight loss or dietary changes
TE is different from more common causes of hair loss like androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness). It can affect both men and women, and only appears two to four months after the triggering event — the length of time hairs stay in the rest phase before falling out. Instead of the gradual, age-related hair loss experienced by many men, stress-related hair loss comes on fast and intense.
That can be a little disconcerting, as you may suddenly notice a large amount of hair accumulating on your pillow, in the shower drain, or on your hairbrush. Your scalp hair may also feel or look thinner. A good way to tell if you have TE (versus another cause) is to tug gently on a few hairs on your scalp. If four or more come out, it’s likely TE.
Fortunately, TE doesn’t affect all your hairs at once, so there’s no risk you’ll suddenly go completely bald. But if you have large clumps of hair coming out or new bald spots, you should see a doctor right away so they can determine the cause.
Is There Any Treatment? Is It Permanent? I’m Panicking Here . . .
Relax before you hurt yourself! There’s nothing to panic about — in fact, stress-related hair loss often resolves on its own without any treatment. Once normal hair growth resumes, you can expect to regrow the hair you lost within six months. But don’t expect to regrow hair in any bald/thin patches that were already there before the TE-triggering event. Sorry, fellas.
Unfortunately, medications like finasteride and Propecia that are so effective for treating male pattern hair loss probably won’t be effective for treating TE. That’s because these drugs work by blocking the negative effects of the hormone DHT on hair follicles, a completely different cause.
It’s unclear whether topical preparations like minoxidil (Rogaine) would be useful for treating TE, but it’s important to remember that this condition isn’t permanent. Get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, and be patient, and you’ll be back to your usual full head of hair before you know it.
Of Course, If You Didn’t Start With a Full Head of Hair . . .
No need, there’s still plenty of hope! For you men who were already dealing with hair loss before the pandemic started, finasteride may still be a great choice. eDrugstore.com specializes in treating conditions that can have a negative impact on your well-being, including hair loss and erectile dysfunction. We can even connect you to our network of licensed telehealth physicians for a free, confidential consultation and free prescription, if appropriate. Click here to see our full inventory of healthcare solutions.
Randall is a medical writer with years of experience in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. After earning his Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, he worked as an infusion and specialty pharmacist, where he discovered his passion for making trustworthy healthcare information accessible to everyone.