The list of possible side effects of COVID-19 is as long and diverse as the list of possible symptoms. Among those potentially persistent problems is hair loss after COVID-19a worrying side effect that emerged early in the pandemic and left many people confused and concerned.
Although many things about COVID-19 are still shrouded in mystery, our understanding of the disease, which completely changed life as we know it, is growing, including post-virus hair loss.
According to dermatologists and an evolving body of scientific research, we now not only know that hair loss after COVID-19 is, in fact, a very real thing, but we continue to learn more and more about the mechanisms behind it. The good news is that for most people, hair loss after COVID-19 is not permanent.
Here, dermatologists explain the connection between COVID-19 and hair loss, and what to do if you experience this unique type of hair loss.
What causes hair loss or thinning in general?
There are many different types of hair loss and a multitude of factors that can contribute to the problem. Hair loss seen after COVID-19 is usually telogen effluviuma condition in which hair falls out in response to a stressor.
Telogen effluvium, the most common type of generalized hair loss, is not only caused by viruses, but can also be a side effect of certain medications, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal abnormalities, and stressful events.
How can COVID-19 cause hair loss?
According to a 2020 study in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, about 1 in 10 people infected with COVID-19 experienced hair loss after the fact; other data in JAAD International they found that it occurred in more than 66% of those who contracted the virus.
However, it is not SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, that is causing the hair loss, but rather the stress your body puts itself through as it fights it. The type of hair loss caused by COVID-19 it is called telogen effluvium, a prolonged hair loss that occurs in response to a sudden stressor.
Telogen effluvium is defined by a few key factors
Initially, you may notice hair all over the bathroom floor or an excessive amount on the hairbrush. After a few weeks, the hair on your head may appear thinner or finer. However, telogen effluvium does not usually occur at the same time as the triggering event; it starts about three months later, says Dr. Ziering. (Although one study found that the onset of COVID-related telogen effluvium may be a bit faster, sometimes within two months of the initial infection) then a few months later, hair may start to fall out.
How long does hair loss last after COVID-19?
Telogen effluvium, whether caused by COVID-19 or another trigger, is usually not permanent. “However, shedding can occur for three to six months before it stops,” says Dr. Kuhn. With telogen effluvium, the hair growth cycle eventually normalizes, and since there is no damage to the scalp or hair follicles, all hair should grow back.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, your hair is likely to return to its normal fullness after telogen effluvium within six to nine months. Although Dr. Kuhn says that, in her experience, it often takes longer, one to two years, for a person’s hair to reach its pre-loss state.
Sharquie KE, Jabbar RI. COVID-19 infection is a major cause of acute telogen effluvium. Go J Med Sci. 2021 Aug 31:1–5. doi: 10.1007/s11845-021-02754-5. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34467470; PMCID: PMC8407603.