From ‘The New York Times’
Annrene Rowe was getting ready to celebrate her 10th wedding anniversary this summer when she noticed a bald spot on her scalp. In the following days, her thick shoulder-length hair started falling out in clumps, bunching up in the shower drain.
“I was crying hysterically,” said Mrs. Rowe, 67, of Anna Maria, Fla.
Mrs. Rowe, who was hospitalized for 12 days in April with symptoms of the coronavirus, soon found strikingly similar stories in online groups of Covid-19 survivors. Many said that several months after contracting the virus, they began shedding startling amounts of hair.
Doctors say they too are seeing many more patients with hair loss, a phenomenon they believe is indeed related to the coronavirus pandemic, affecting both people who had the virus and those who never became sick.
In normal times, some people shed noticeable amounts of hair after a profoundly stressful experience such as an illness, major surgery or emotional trauma.
Now, doctors say, many patients recovering from Covid-19 are experiencing hair loss — not from the virus itself, but from the physiological stress of fighting it off. Many people who never contracted the virus are also losing hair, because of emotional stress from job loss, financial strain, deaths of family members or other devastating developments stemming from the pandemic.
“There’s many, many stresses in many ways surrounding this pandemic, and we’re still seeing hair loss because a lot of the stress hasn’t gone away,” said Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal, an associate professor of dermatology at the Cleveland Clinic.
Before the pandemic, there were weeks when Dr. Khetarpal didn’t see a single patient with hair loss of this type. Now, she said, about 20 such patients a week come in. One was a woman having difficulty home-schooling two young children while also working from home. Another was a second-grade teacher anxiously trying to ensure that all her students had computers and internet access for online instruction.
In a July survey about post-Covid symptoms among 1,567 members of a survivors’ group, 423 people reported unusual hair loss, according to the group, Survivor Corps, and Natalie Lambert, an associate research professor at Indiana University School of Medicine, who helped conduct the survey.
Dr. Emma Guttman-Yassky, the incoming chairwoman of the dermatology department at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, said she has treated many frontline medical workers for hair loss, including her hospital’s employees.
For most patients the condition should be temporary, doctors say, but it could last months.
There are two types of hair loss the pandemic seems to be triggering, experts say.
In one condition, called telogen effluvium, people shed much more than the typical 50-to-100 hairs per day, usually beginning several months after a stressful experience. It essentially involves a shifting or “tripping of the hair growth system,” said Dr. Sara Hogan, a dermatologist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles, who has been seeing up to seven patients a day with the condition.
In healthy hair cycles, most hairs are in a growing phase, with a small percentage in a short resting phase and only about 10 percent of hairs in a shedding or telogen phase. But with telogen effluvium, “people are shedding more, growing less,” Dr. Khetarpal said, and up to 50 percent of hair might skip ahead to the shedding phase, with only about 40 percent in the growth phase.