Expert Eva Proudman from the Institute of Trichologists explains the reasons behind this concerning condition which is reportedly affecting an increasing number of patients who had felt they were on the road to recovery
Fatigue, persistent cough, muscle weakness and even memory loss. These are just some of the debilitating long-term outcomes that some patients are facing in the aftermath of COVID. However, in recent weeks, a number of celebrity testimonials (such as American actress Alyssa Milano and British actress and TV personality Linda Lusardi) have brought to the fore the relatively new, yet particularly distressing side-effect of post-COVID hair shedding.
Clinical Trichologist Eva Proudman helps shed some light as to why many people who have suffered from COVID-19 are now also experiencing dramatic hair shedding (telogen effluvium) months after their initial coronavirus diagnosis.
“It’s well known that telogen effluvium – to give excess hair shedding its clinical name- can be stimulated by acute illness and high fever which explains why numerous COVID-19 patients who suffered at the critical level back in March or April may now be experiencing hair shedding. Stress, shock or trauma can also bring on telogen effluvium – emotions and experiences that many COVID-19 patients have felt during these worrying few months. Increased hair shedding will most probably be a temporary issue and, reassuringly, it is unlikely that you will permanently lose any hair. However, I do completely understand that it can be very frightening to experience and very stressful to look in the mirror and see the impact of hair shedding.
“So, if you are worried, I do urge post-COVID patients to seek medical advice – first via your GP, who should refer you to a dermatologist or recommend a specialist trichology consultation – to confirm the condition and to ensure that you are doing all you can to manage and maintain your hair to bring it back to its normal, healthy state.
“There has also been some interesting global research into the link between COVID-19 and telogen effluvium. For example, a research team at the School of Medicine at Indiana University found that almost 1/3 of 1,500 people surveyed reported hair shedding as a longer-term effect of COVID-19 symptoms. Furthermore, the School of Medicine at Uşak University in Turkey reported around a 33% increase in patients being diagnosed with alopecia in recent months compared to before the pandemic.
Eva continues; “Of course, it is not only those who have suffered with COVID-19 that are experiencing hair shedding. As I mentioned, lockdown has been a stressful and traumatic time for many of us and these emotions alone can trigger telogen effluvium. I have also seen a marked increase in cases of Alopecia Areata (patchy hair loss) across my trichology clinics due to increased stress and anxiety during this time.
Furthermore, in lockdown we have all had to adapt to spending a lot more time indoors which can restrict our access to sunlight and vitamin D.
“Hair follicles have vitamin D receptors which in simple terms stimulate hair growth, so if your vitamin D level is low or deficient then your hair is at risk of shedding excessively. Now that we have been allowed significantly more freedom to roam – and the weather has largely been so good across the UK – I strongly recommend regular outdoor activity and exercise, firstly to help lift your mood and ease your stress levels, and secondly to allow that all important access to sunlight. This can be really effective in preventing and coping with hair shedding.
“Understandably, telogen effluvium in any context can be scary for those experiencing it, and its occurrence as a post-recovery symptom of COVID-19 is just the latest unforeseen symptom to be documented after breathlessness, muscle degeneration and fatigue.
“It may be tempting to succumb to the panic and start investing in lots of supplements and lotions that ‘promise’ to stop the shed. Rather than do this, invest wisely in seeking professional advice that will investigate and diagnose all causative factors for your individual hair condition. From what I have seen during lockdown, hair shedding resulting from COVID-19 is a transient condition and in the vast majority of cases your hair will not be permanently lost. Try to be patient, de-stress, and exercise regularly in order to help your hair replenish, grow and flourish as we hopefully enter a more stable period of 2020.”