A. Frustratingly, yes. More and more COVID-19 survivors have reported excessive hair loss following infection. Although this complication may not rank up there with some of more serious consequences that have been reported among “long-haulers,” excessive hair loss is still pretty disconcerting. It also adds yet another source of distress, with impacts on morale and mental health, during an already stressful time.
Why is this happening? Doctors don’t think the virus is directly causing hair loss. Instead, it’s likely due to the physical shock that one’s body experiences as it contends with high fevers and other symptoms. As Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic explains, “Essentially, it is a temporary hair loss from excessive shedding due to a shock to the system. It isn’t a symptom of COVID-19 as much as it is a consequence of the infection.”
The condition, also known as telogen effluvium, has been observed in the past, following bouts of severe illness or highly stressful situations. There are three phases in the hair follicle growth cycle: anagen (growth), catagen (resting), and telogen (shedding). In a healthy individual, 90–95% of the hair follicles are in the anagen phase and the remainder (5–10%) in the catagen and telogen phase with about 100-150 hair being shed daily. However, roughly 2-3 months after a traumatic event, hair abruptly shifts into a mass shedding phase, with the potential for up to 50% of hair loss.
Although the links between COVID-19 and telogen effluvium are based on anecdotal evidence from patients and doctors, the timing of the hair loss (2-3 months post-infection) suggest that the physical trauma from COVID-19 may very well be the culprit. While there are limited data on this, reports from adult COVID-19 survivors suggests that excessive hair loss following infection can occur regardless of age, and even among individuals that never required hospitalization.
The good news is that telogen effluvium is usually self-limiting, lasting for about 6 months. Nevertheless, if you have any concerns or have other symptoms post-infection, please consult with your healthcare provider.