Covid-19 has a few well-known symptoms. It’s the first illness that springs to mind for anyone with a fever, cough, or altered sense of taste or smell. But recent studies have shown another common symptom in many Covid patients — hair loss.
A survey by the Indiana University School of Medicine found almost 27% of people experience hair loss after a Covid infection . And Dr Michael May, principal surgeon at the Wimpole Clinic, confirms a link between Covid and hair loss. “While the scientific discoveries are still ongoing, evidence suggests there is some kind of connection between virus symptoms or side effects, and the health of the hair and scalp.”
So what causes hair loss after Covid? Find out what can trigger Covid-related hair shedding, and how you can prevent and treat this distressing side effect.
What makes people lose hair after Covid-19 infection?
Hair shedding isn’t caused by the Covid-19 virus attacking the hair follicles themselves . Instead, most Covid-related hair loss seems to be caused by high levels of stress — whether it’s worry about recovery, or physical stress as your body tries to fight off the virus.
Even the prospect of catching Covid is extremely stressful for many people. Older people and those with underlying conditions are at higher risk of severe Covid symptoms. But many young, healthy people are also hospitalised after experiencing serious symptoms [3, 4]. So if you haven’t had Covid before, you may worry about how your body will react.
Stress and anxiety are common causes of hair loss. Stress-related hair loss is a condition known as telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium is usually temporary, and can be caused by emotional shock, trauma, surgery, and even some medications — so it’s easy to see how this condition could be linked to Covid-19.
Multiple studies into Covid-related hair loss have found a link between Covid and telogen effluvium [5, 6, 7]. This appears to be the most common reason for Covid patients to lose their hair if they had healthy hair before catching the virus.
What is telogen effluvium and why does Covid cause it?
Any kind of trauma or emotional shock can trigger telogen effluvium. It happens when a high number of hairs enter the shedding (telogen) phase of the hair growth cycle:
The most common causes of telogen effluvium include :
- Stress, anxiety, and depression
- Illness or disease (especially those which cause fever)
- Injury and trauma (physical or mental)
- Drugs and medication
- Major surgery
- Malnutrition (including as a result of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa)
- Pregnancy and labour.
Severe or even moderate episodes of Covid can cause telogen effluvium in multiple ways. Fever is a key symptom of Covid-19, with more than 85% of patients experiencing this symptom . Dr May says fever is often related to telogen effluvium. “Telogen effluvium is when more hairs enter the shedding phase of a hair’s growth cycle. A fever simply forces more hairs into this phase, which is why people notice more hair coming out in the shower, or when they brush their hair.”
Patients may also feel anxious about their diagnosis and their ability to recover. And hospitalisation usually means patients need to take various medications to support their recovery. When these triggers combine, it’s a clear recipe for stress-related hair loss.
Can other hair loss conditions affect Covid patients?
Stress-related hair loss isn’t the only type of hair shedding linked with Covid. Other studies suggest Covid can aggravate androgenetic alopecia (also known as male pattern baldness or female pattern hair loss) in people who already have the condition [7, 8].
This has led some researchers to suggest that androgen receptors — which are typically more abundant in men — could actually be the reason for higher levels of severe Covid in men [9, 10].
A much smaller study also indicates a potential link between Covid and dystrophic anagen effluvium . This condition has similar symptoms to telogen effluvium, but affects growth-stage (anagen) hairs, rather than resting-stage (telogen) hairs. As a result, hair loss typically occurs much more quickly than in telogen effluvium. Another small study links Covid with alopecia areata, an autoimmune hair loss condition that causes bald spots on your scalp .
More research is needed to establish a consistent link between these conditions and Covid. Telogen effluvium causes most cases of hair loss after Covid — which can be distressing, but is almost always temporary.
Can hair loss happen during long Covid?
Telogen effluvium onset is usually 2 to 3 months after the trigger — so it’s not always easy to tell if hair shedding is happening as a result of the initial Covid infection, or long-lasting symptoms.
A US survey found that more than a quarter of people experiencing long Covid also had hair loss during this time . Those with long Covid may experience ongoing stress while their symptoms continue, so it’s certainly possible that stress related to long Covid could trigger telogen effluvium in the same way as the initial infection.
In July 2022, a new study by the University of Birmingham established that hair loss is a key symptom of long Covid sufferers (those who have symptoms at least 12 weeks after infection) . This is significant, thanks to the large number of study participants — researchers recorded symptoms of more than 486,000 non-hospitalised adults. As well as confirming the link between hair loss and long Covid, this study shows that you don’t need to have had severe symptoms to experience hair loss after infection.
How long does hair loss after Covid last?
It depends on which type of hair loss you have. Telogen effluvium often clears up by itself once you’ve treated or removed the triggers. If you’ve had Covid and recovered well, you may find your hair begins to regrow without treatment.
Most cases of telogen effluvium last up to 6 months . Chronic telogen effluvium can last longer, but there’s currently no evidence to suggest that Covid causes chronic forms of the condition.
Unfortunately, if your hair loss is genetic, it’s likely to be permanent and irreversible. You’ll need to address it with medication, topical solutions, or a hair transplant. And because Covid can make pattern hair loss worse, you should act quickly to avoid substantial hair loss. Book a free trichological consultation if you’re worried about the extent or speed of your hair loss.
Can you prevent hair shedding after Covid?
While not all telogen effluvium is preventable — particularly if it’s caused by medication or surgery — managing your stress levels can help. Even if this doesn’t prevent hair loss entirely, it can reduce your symptoms and help the condition clear up more quickly.
Effective stress management techniques include cognitive behavioural therapy, regular exercise, yoga, and adequate amounts of sleep . You may not feel up to working out while you recover from Covid — but low-intensity workouts and stretching can also reduce your stress levels.
If Covid is aggravating your pattern hair loss, this is irreversible — so it’s important to find a treatment that stops hair loss progressing. Common treatments for pattern hair loss include:
Which type of Covid-related hair loss do I have?
If you didn’t have any kind of hair loss before you caught the virus, telogen effluvium is the most likely explanation. This temporary hair loss should start to regrow within a few months. It could also be anagen effluvium, although this is less likely. Anagen effluvium is usually visible within days or weeks of being triggered, whereas telogen effluvium takes much longer .
If you were losing hair before you had Covid, the virus may have exacerbated a pre-existing genetic hair loss problem. However, it’s possible for telogen effluvium to affect people who also have pattern hair loss. If you’re unsure, ask a hair loss specialist to identify the cause.
Does hair grow back after a Covid infection?
Most studies into hair loss after Covid have found that patients see a complete recovery of their hair . But it depends on your hair loss type — patients with alopecia areata or pattern balding are unlikely to see hair regrowth without further treatment.
How to treat hair loss after Covid
As well as psychological support and stress management, researchers have found other promising treatments that may improve or speed up hair regrowth after Covid [7, 8, 17].
A recently launched hair growth treatment called QR678 Neo has been shown to reduce telogen effluvium-induced hair loss in female Covid patients whose hair loss continued beyond 6 months . This hair growth solution contains plant-based growth factors. 89% of patients showed excellent hair growth after regular scalp injections of QR678 Neo.
Proteoglycan replacement therapy, combined with Nourkrin tablets, may also be an effective way to treat Covid-related hair loss . This solution could help patients with hair loss caused by androgenetic alopecia as well as telogen effluvium.
In addition to the standard treatments for pattern hair loss (such as Minoxidil and Finasteride), platelet-rich plasma therapy has also been shown to be highly effective in those with aggravated pattern hair loss after Covid .
Will supplements help treat my Covid-related hair loss?
Many people turn to vitamin supplements for hair loss — but there’s actually very little evidence to suggest they improve hair growth . If you have a micronutrient deficiency, supplements can restore your body to normal levels of vital vitamins and minerals. But they’re largely ineffective as a hair restoration treatment — including for Covid-related hair shedding.
What to do about hair loss after Covid
Most types of Covid-related hair loss will clear up on their own after a few months. But if your hair loss is persistent — or follows a pattern that can be seen on the Norwood Scale (for men) or Ludwig Scale (for women) — you may want to ask a hair loss specialist for advice.
At the Wimpole Clinic, we take all kinds of hair loss seriously. Book a free consultation with a member of our trichology team to diagnose your hair loss condition and find the right treatment for you.
- COVID-19 “Long Hauler” Symptoms Survey Report
- What can the hair tell us about COVID-19?
- Who is at high risk from coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Younger Adults Caught in COVID-19 Crosshairs as Demographics Shift
- Telogen effluvium related to post severe Sars-Cov-2 infection: Clinical aspects and our management experience
- Acute telogen effluvium associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection
- COVID-19 Can Exacerbate Pattern Hair Loss and Trigger Telogen Effluvium – The Role of Proteoglycan Replacement Therapy with Nourkrin® in Clinical Treatment of COVID-19 Associated Hair Loss
- Complementary Strategies to Promote Hair Regrowth in Post-COVID-19 Telogen Effluvium
- What does androgenetic alopecia have to do with COVID-19? An insight into a potential new therapy
- Covid-19 and gender: lower rate but same mortality of severe disease in women—an observational study
- COVID-19 related anagen effluvium
- Association between alopecia areata and COVID-19: A systematic review
- Symptoms and risk factors for long COVID in non-hospitalized adults
- Telogen Effluvium: A Review
- Prevalence and severity of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): A systematic review and meta-analysis
- Dystrophic-Anagen Effluvium Occurring During Pegylated Interferon-α-2a/Ribavirin Therapy
- Efficacy of QR678 Neo® hair growth factor formulation for the treatment of hair loss in Covid-19-induced persistent Telogen Effluvium. A prospective, clinical, single-blind study
- Platelet-Rich Plasma Treatment for Accelerated Androgenetic Alopecia Pattern Hair Loss After COVID-19 Infection: A Case Series
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