We are still learning what the effects of COVID-19 are on the human body. From January it was clear that a persistent cough and high temperature were common short-term coronavirus symptoms, but a loss of taste or smell was added to the NHS guidelines in May, and many people are reporting a wide array of other symptoms that may last for weeks or months after they have otherwise recovered.
Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano was one of the first high profile celebrities to talk openly about her first-hand experience with hair loss following a coronavirus diagnosis. Under the hashtag #longhauler, the 47-year-old Charmed star published a video to Twitter that showed the number of hair strands came loose with a single brush stroke, saying: “I just want to show you the amount of hair that’s coming out of my head as a result of Covid…One brushing, this is my hair loss from Covid-19. Wear a damn mask!”
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) August 9, 2020
Hair loss has become an increasingly common complaint in recent months, but the symptom is not a recognised side effect of Covid-19 and sufferers have been left baffled as to the cause. Whilst the uptick in complaints has been noted by GPs and dermatologists around the world, the cause of the problem may be relatively simple – stress.
Simone Thomas, a hair loss specialist, recently told Refinery29: “Temporary hair loss, otherwise known as telogen effluvium or TE, will start two to four months after a triggering event such as stress.”
The cause of stress could be anything from a new job to childbirth, to a change of circumstance, or critically in this case – suffering an illness. And so whilst Covid-19 may not directly cause hair loss, the fear, panic, and worry from the virus, quarantine, and ongoing risks to our health and economic futures can all contribute to increased hair shedding, resulting in thinning hair.
Stress is therefore the likely cause of the majority of hair loss cases people are attributing to the coronavirus, but there are scientific studies that are linking the virus directly to hair loss in limited situations. In one study that looked at a link between androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness) and coronavirus-related pneumonia, the researchers said that they believed androgens (male hormones) are linked to the coronavirus infection and immunosuppressive effects.
Whilst the stress-linked hair loss will cause concern, the good news is that the problem should be temporary. Hshairclinic.co.uk confirms: “It is unlikely that hair loss thought to be a side effect of Covid-19 will not grow back. In most cases, telogen effluvium hair loss, and stress-related hair loss often grows back when the hair growth cycle normalizes, however, this can take some time.”