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Because of its serious and well-known complications, the number one greatest fear of someone with a newly positive COVID diagnosis should be the potential for death.
COVID has killed millions of people worldwide and the survivors can still see lingering and potentially permanent damage.
While lung function may be the biggest concern for surviving patients, COVID can cause a variety of health issues beyond breathing problems, and in some cases that can include hair loss.
If you’re experiencing COVID hair loss, fear and uncertainty are probably taking a toll on your mental health, which very well may be making things worse. Luckily, we have some good news.
Hair loss from COVID, for the most part, is reversible. It’s based on a type of hair loss that occurs when your body is stressed out, and typically, once the stress is resolved, your hair should grow back.
To understand how this all works, let's start with some basic facts about the hair growth cycle.
Are you losing more hair due to Covid? Let’s put things in perspective.
The average human has around 100,000 hairs on their head, and according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) it is perfectly normal for you to drop about 100 hairs each day.
This isn’t just normal — it’s actually important for your scalp to shed these hairs as a way to continue to refresh your head with new, healthier hair.
What is not normal is if the lost follicle numbers go up. Specifically, it’s not normal when hair’s three-phase cycle of growth is interrupted somehow, causing ten percent or more of your follicles to enter the telogen phase.
What Is Hair Shedding?
When you shed more than the normal amount of hair follicles, you’re experiencing hair shedding.
A hair follicle’s lifespan consists of three phases: anagen, catagen and telogen. Each and every hair is in an independent phase compared with the others around it.
Your hair has particular actions that happen in each phase: It grows during the anagen phase, slows growth during the catagen phase and falls out in the telogen phase.
Remember, each person is expected to have about nine percent of their hair in the telogen phase at any given time.
The key to understanding hair shedding is a condition called telogen effluvium: a condition in which significantly more than the normal percentage of follicles get stuck in the telogen phase.
Telogen effluvium is caused by trauma and/or stress to the follicle. Severe illness, injuries and stressors can all cause this extended sabbatical for the hair follicle.
Good news: In most cases, telogen effluvium is temporary and hair follicles will return to normal function once your body recovers, and what caused the temporary hair loss in the first place has subsided.
Just because you tested positive for COVID-19, doesn’t mean it’s the cause of your hair loss. Other hair loss types can cause the appearance of shedding, and they can potentially be more serious.
Traumatic alopecia, for instance, is caused by trauma to the follicle in the form of pulling (traction) or irritation by chemicals.
It can also be caused by emotional stress and related stress disorders that literally make you pull your own hair out, or it could potentially be caused by hairstyles including tight ponytails, which pull on your hair.
But the worst case scenario is that you might have a more serious disease creating problems.
Alopecia areata is a symptom of certain autoimmune issues rather than a specific type of hair loss.
With alopecia areata your immune system attacks your follicles mistaking them for foreign bodies, and that can force them out of production, where they can stay dormant as long as the condition is untreated — sometimes permanently.
In both cases, the damage is often permanent after a certain length of time, which is why you should address hair loss problems at the first instance.
Generally, hair loss is caused when the normal three-phase hair growth cycle is interrupted.
But some medications can cause a variety of side effects, including arresting your hair in the telogen phase indefinitely. As mentioned above, the condition is called telogen effluvium.
Telogen effluvium is often brought on by bodily trauma and stress, but it can be brought on by surgery, illness, any sudden weight loss and even PTSD.
And it can also be caused by the use of some medications. Fortunately, you can learn how to reverse hair loss from medication.
So how does hair shedding resolve itself?
As you read above, telogen effluvium corrects itself most of the time.
But there are actions you can take to reverse course and stop your hair shedding immediately, starting with taking care of your general health.
You might speed up the hair growth process by reducing your stress, eating a balanced and healthy diet or just generally taking better care of your health.
Once your body is back to a place of balance, your hair follicles will likely return to hair growth after a period of a few weeks or months.
Regardless of the cause or type of hair loss you’re dealing with, attention to your nutritional needs is important. Evidence suggests that alopecia from chemotherapy may be worsened by low nutritional health.
Addressing your hair health may also require some medications of its own.
Topical minoxidil (popularly known as Rogaine®) increases blood flow to your hair follicles, which is believed to potentially stimulate the dormant follicles to reenter anagen phase growth and begin populating your locks again.
Most studies are conducted on men, but the results for women are promising as well. In one case, minoxidil use increased hair density and likewise boosted hair count by as much as 18 percent for users during a 48-week period.
It is an effective and safe hair growth option to speed up the hair loss recovery process, according to the folks at the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Other ingredients for hair growth that appear in shampoos or conditioners could also provide relief and support for whatever is harming and hindering your scalp. Learn more about those options in hers’ Women’s Hair Loss Shampoo guide.
Let’s talk for a second about the reality we live in. Covid is a dangerous disease, and there are bigger concerns than what it might do to your hair. That said, society expects women to be blemish free, to have full voluminous locks and fit unrealistic beauty standards from an early age. The risk of Covid disrupting that should be taken seriously.
If you’ve tested positive for Covid, you should see a doctor regardless of your hair condition, but if you’ve noticed follicle problems or excess hair shedding, it’s time to bring that to the attention of a medical professional.
Hair shedding during or after Covid might very well be nothing to worry about, but could might also be a telltale sign of major health issues that should be brought to a healthcare professional’s attention.
If your hair loss has been sudden with or without Covid, we can help you learn more about sudden hair loss with our guide.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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