Some coronavirus patients are experiencing a new consequence of COVID-19: Hair loss

July 29 , 2020 10:55 AM

Hair loss has become another emergent consequence of the novel coronavirus as COVID-19 patients battle symptoms for months at a time.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t recognize hair loss as a symptom of COVID-19, more than 27% of at least 1,100 poll respondents in the Survivor Corps Facebook group reported hair loss.

Dr. Michele S. Green, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said there’s been an influx of patients seeking treatment for hair loss during quarantine and after she reopened her office. 

“Patients have literally come in with bags of hair looking like a full head of hair was in the bag,” she said. “They all have similar stories. That they were extremely sick with high fevers and have never been that sick in their entire lives.”

Doctors say hair loss may not be caused by the virus itself but by the physical shock patients’ bodies experience as they battle high fevers and other intense symptoms.

Telogen effluvium, the medical term for this condition, can be triggered by surgery, major physical trauma, major psychological stress, high fever, severe infection or other illness, extreme weight loss, extreme change in diet, abrupt hormonal changes or iron deficiency, according to the Harvard Medical School.

It occurs when the body experiences a shock to the system forcing the hair to jump from the growing phase to the resting phase and then the shedding phase after a couple of months, said Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. 

She said this is why most COVID-19 patients usually experience hair loss a couple of weeks to months after they recover from the initial "shock" that triggered the telogen effluvium.

A patient can lose up to 50% of hair from this condition, however, it is temporary as shedding decreases for the following six months until hair returns to normal thickness. 

Experts can't confirm why some patients experience hair loss and others don't, but doctors speculate some people may be genetically predisposed to the condition, Khetarpal said. 

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While there are over-the-counter medical remedies that could accelerate the growing phase, Khetarpal recommends that patients maintain a well-balanced diet and introduce vitamins that promote hair growth. 

She also urges patients experiencing hair loss to manage their stress as it can worsen the problem. 

"Hair is our identity, it’s a huge part of our culture and the shedding itself can cause a lot of stress," Khetarpal said. "That can contribute to the problem and make things worse." 

There are no other telogen effluvium symptoms besides hair loss. So, if patients experience any flaking, scaling, inflammation, or rough patches, experts urge them to consult their doctor as there could be something else wrong. 

Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT. 

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