The effects of the coronavirus on the mind and body are continually being discovered; recently, it’s come to light that many survivors are suffering from stress-related hair loss, a medical condition known as telogen effluvium.

Rather than being a symptom of Covid, doctors say that it is actually a side-effect of the virus.  It impacts the percentage of natural hair shedding (telogen) by as much as 50 percent. The devastating emotional impact leaves women confused, as telogen effluvium has a delayed start. It typically doesn’t occur until two to three months following the cause. In this case, Covid survivors and those who have suffered extreme stress and anxiety from the onset of the pandemic are experiencing greater hair loss now than when the outbreak began.

The Cause of Covid Stress Hair Loss

While many doctors report seeing increased cases of telogen effluvium among Covid survivors, there are also many who have been impacted without falling ill. The increased stress from living through a global health crisis can increase the body’s production of stress hormones, which worsen hair shedding and cause a variety of other symptoms including gastrointestinal problems, migraines, anxiety attacks and depression.

Dermatologist Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal spoke to the Cleveland Clinic about how stress can cause covid telogen effluvium. “At any given time, about 90% of our hair is growing, about 5% is resting and 5% is shedding,” she explained. “But when you have a major stress event or shock, up to 50% of hairs can be pushed into the shedding phase.”

Dr. Khetarpal also mentions that people who have a thyroid condition or Vitamin D deficiency are also more likely to experience excessive hair shedding. Balding from the coronavirus can also occur in serious cases; women who already suffer from trichotillomania or alopecia areata can experience worse symptoms due to higher levels of stress.

For those who have survived the virus, the long-term effects of covid on the immune system vary but include, among telogen effluvium:

  • Heart inflammation
  • Lung problems
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Loss of smell
  • Breathlessness and breathing difficulties
  • Headaches & dizziness
  • Difficulty concentrating

Every patient is different, and whether you are in recovery from the virus or trying to manage stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, self-care is tremendously important.

What are the risk factors?

People who already experience hair loss, including thinning or balding, are more likely to experience excessive shedding as a result of high stress. Dr. Khetarpal also listed nutrition as a major influence. She explained that deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals can cause the body to essentially “discard” hair to preserve its red blood cells.

She explained that people with low iron stores are more likely to suffer from anemia and hair loss. “If you have high iron stores, your body is going be able to support the hair more than, say, if you’re anemic and have other issues going on. The body doesn’t see the hair as essential, so if you have low iron stores, it’s going to shift that to make your red blood cells. It’s not going to focus on making hair. It’s just going to say, ‘Well, let the hair shed. We don’t need that.”

Does this mean taking iron supplements can help with hair loss and shedding? Possibly, but it’s only one solution that should first be discussed with a doctor.

How to Treat Telogen Effluvium

In cases unrelated to other hair loss conditions, coronavirus telogen effluvium can resolve on its own within six to nine months. You should continue your normal hair washing routine, but you may want to introduce a hair strengthening shampoo and conditioner to preserve the quality of your hair that’s still intact.

In addition to eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh produce, you should also check in with your mental health. Mental health screening tools can help you monitor your stress and anxiety levels to manage them more effectively. Virtual therapy can put you in touch with a real therapist who can help you become more accepting of the current uncertainty and fear surrounding the pandemic.

Although you cannot control hair loss or its causes, taking the best possible care of yourself and reaching out for help when needed is your best line of defense.

Additional Resources:

What is telogen effluvium? – Harvard Health
https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/telogen-effluvium-a-to-z

COVID Stress Syndrome: What It Is and Why It Matters  Psychology Today
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/experimentations/202007/covid-stress-syndrome-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters

Telogen Effluvium: What Is It and What Can I Do? Healthline
https://www.healthline.com/health/telogen-effluvium