Does COVID-19 cause hair loss?
- What is telogen effluvium?
- Causes of telogen effluvium
- Why do some people experience hair loss after illness?
- Why does COVID-19 cause hair loss?
- Can the COVID vaccine cause hair loss?
- Could stress from the pandemic cause hair loss?
- Other types of hair loss
- Male pattern baldness
- Treatment for hair loss after COVID-19
Updated 13th September 2022 - for the most up to date coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance and information, please visit the NHS or government’s dedicated pages. This advice may differ in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
You may have come across a few reports in the press and on social media of people losing their hair after having had COVID-19. There have been a few studies looking at this.
Overall, women seem to be more at risk than men. The hair loss is usually reversible, and in most cases the hair loss is due to telogen effluvium. In a nutshell telogen effluvium (TE) is a change of the length of the natural hair cycle, so some of your hair is shedding earlier than it normally would. This usually happens two-three months after a significant illness or another stressful event.
In this article will look at the telogen effluvium, its symptoms and causes and investigate its link between COVID-19 and hair 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 two-three months after being triggered.
Causes of telogen effluvium
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 three 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 sometime 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.
Why does COVID-19 cause hair loss?
It's not entirely clear yet why some people experience hair loss after a COVID-19 infection, and others don't. Initially it was thought that only people who were very ill with COVID-19 got hair loss, but this does not seem to be the case.
What we do know though, is that it's more common in women and that in most cases it is due to telogen effluvium.
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, sore throat, headache, diarrhoea and feeling achy or fluey .
You can get a free NHS test if you work in health or social care, or have certain conditions that put you at high risk. Anyone can still buy PCR tests and lateral flow kits from testing services like LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.
How long does COVID hair loss last?
It’s very likely that if you experience hair loss after the infection it will be due to telogen effluvium. This means your hair should return to normal growth once new hairs replace the shedding hair. Hair loss caused by telogen effluvium isn’t usually permanent and tends to come back within a few months.
Can the COVID vaccine cause hair loss?
There have been a handful of cases of people experiencing hair loss after the COVID vaccine. Some of these people already had history of alopecia areata, a type of hair loss that is thought to be associated with a immune system condition. So, it’s thought that perhaps the body’s immune response to the vaccine could trigger alopecia areata, as other vaccines have had triggered autoimmune conditions in the past.
But by and large hair loss is not considered a side effect of any of the COVID jabs.
Could stress from the pandemic cause hair loss?
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.
Find out more about stress and hair loss here.
Other types of hair loss
Male pattern baldness
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.
Some studies have found that COVID-19 infection can make male pattern baldness worse.
Female pattern baldness
This is one of the of the most common types of hair loss in women, and is 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 after COVID-19
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 (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.