Does COVID-19 cause hair loss?
There have been reports in the press of people losing their hair some time after falling ill with coronavirus (COVID-19). While there might be some evidence to suggest a link between COVID-19 and hair loss, these reports are largely anecdotal. The virus is just too new for scientists and clinicians to be able to officially link COVID-19 to hair loss.
However, there is a condition known as telogen effluvium, which is a type of hair loss often caused by severe illness (such as COVID-19), stress or significant life changes/events (e.g. child birth or marked weight loss).
What is telogen effluvium?
While it’s normal to shed as many as 150 hairs each day, telogen effluvium occurs when there is a significant increase in the number of hairs lost each day. This increase occurs when a number of hairs move from the ‘growing phase’ (anagen) to the ‘shedding phase’ (telogen). In normal hair growth only 10% of the hair on the head is in the ‘shedding phase’, but when you are experiencing telogen effluvium, 30% of the hair is in the ‘shedding phase’, and in some cases it can be more than this.
When this change happens it can be very sudden and occurs usually around 3 months after being triggered.
What can trigger this type of hair loss?
Telogen effluvium occurs when there is a disruption to the normal life cycle of the hair. This disruption is usually due to physical stresses on the body. The physical stresses that can cause this type of hair loss include:
- infections associated with a high fever (like the flu or COVID-19)
- illness associated with weight loss or that uses up protein stores in the body
- major surgery
- significant/stressful life event
- crash dieting
- starting new medication
- withdrawal of a hormone treatment
Don’t forget, it’s usually up to 3 months after an event like this that you start to see the hair loss.
Why do some people experience hair loss after illness?
Significant illness can cause a disruption to the natural hair cycle, pushing more hair follicles to the ‘shedding phase’ as opposed to ‘growing phase’. Some people therefore experience hair loss some time after falling ill.
Is this type of hair loss permanent?
Usually telogen effluvium is not a permanent type of hair loss and typically no treatment is needed. The hair normally grows back once the trigger has gone away.
If you’re concerned about your hair loss and think it could be caused by something else a blood test might be advised by your GP. This blood test can help make sure the hair loss isn’t the result of an iron deficiency or underactive thyroid.
Does COVID-19 cause temporary hair loss like telogen effluvium?
Because one of the symptoms of COVID-19 is a high fever and some people can become very unwell with the virus, it’s no surprise that some people may experience hair loss as long as 3 months after being ill. As mentioned previously the physical stress of the virus is likely to disrupt the normal life cycle of the hair in some people, and therefore they may begin to experience hair loss later down the line.
Is hair loss a symptom of COVID-19?
Hair loss is not listed as one of the official symptoms of COVID-19. The key symptoms to look out for are a high temperature, new, continuous cough, loss or change to sense of taste or smell.
Could I be experiencing hair loss due to stress from the pandemic?
If you found the COVID-19 pandemic extremely stressful there is a chance you could experience hair loss some months after heightened stress levels began. This is because significant and stressful life events can cause physical stress on the body and damage the natural hair cycle.
Why do some people experience this hair loss after having COVID-19?
It’s not clear why some people will experience telogen effluvium after having a virus such as COVID-19, and why some people will experience no change to their hair. However if you’ve been very unwell with COVID-19 there is a chance that your natural hair cycle will have been disrupted and you may experience hair loss some months later.
Will my hair grow back post COVID-19?
It’s very likely that if you experience hair loss after the infection (whether that infection is COVID-19 or not) it will be due to telogen effluvium. This means your hair should return to normal growth once new hairs replace the shedding hair.
Other types of hair loss
- Male pattern baldness is one of the most common types of hair loss and it affects as many as half of men over 50. This type of hair loss is a natural part of ageing but in most cases is treatable.
- Female pattern baldness, sometimes called androgenetic alopecia is characterised by thinning of the hair on the top of the head.
- Alopecia areata is characterised by hair falling out in patches and is usually caused by problems with your immune system. This type of hair loss is typically temporary and resolves itself.
Treatment for hair loss
There is no real treatment for hair loss associated with an illness such as COVID-19. In most cases the hair will begin to grow back naturally. In some cases the use of minoxidil shampoo (Regaine) might help encourage growth. This is because the minoxidil helps the hair follicles to leave the ‘shedding phase’ quicker, returning to the ‘growth phase’.
Female pattern baldness can be treated by minoxidil, Regaine for Women. Male pattern baldness can also be treated. Medications such as Finasteride (generic Propecia) are effective at halting hair loss in as many as 90% of men. Neither male or female pattern baldness can be cured, these treatments will help the condition, but the hair loss will return as soon as you stop treatment. Alopecia can be treated, in some cases, with light therapy, steroids, or in some cases the condition may also respond to minoxidil. Other options for hair loss include wigs, hair pieces or even hair transplants.
To find out more about male hair loss, visit our hair loss clinic.
Updated 20th Aug 2020 - we recommend the COVID-19 pages on the NHS website for more up to date information.