Patients recovering from COVID-19 are now grappling with the aftermath. For some, the shock to the system causes hair to fall out in handfuls. The shedding is temporary but can continue for months.
At the Cleveland Clinic, dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal has been seeing 20 to 25 patients a month with significant hair loss. “This phenomenon of hair loss is called telogen effluvium, and all it means is that a large portion of the hair that’s normally in the growing phase gets shifted to the shedding phase as a result of some major shock,” she says.
The problem isn’t unique to COVID. It can be triggered by any shock to the system, physical or psychological, and generally begins two to three months after the trauma. In the midst of the pandemic, COVID is the major trigger.
“People are seeing hair everywhere, like in their combs, on their pillows, on their clothes, on the floor. The hair is just everywhere,” Dr. Khetarpal says. She says the shedding should end within six months and the hair will start to regrow. She suggests managing stress through yoga and meditation to help speed the process, or using over-the-counter minoxidil.
Colleen Gaffney spent two days in the hospital in March fighting COVID-19 and pneumonia. Recovering over the summer, she noticed her hair was falling out in clumps. “When I would brush my hair after the shower, the brush would just be full of hair,” Gaffney says. By September, she’d lost about 50% of her hair. “All through the front, I can feel it, and the actual thickness of my braids were much thinner overall,” Gaffney says.
Gaffney also takes vitamin supplements and uses platelet-rich plasma injections to stimulate hair follicles. “I got through COVID, I’m feeling great, and now this, it’s like it’s a little extra reminder of what I went through,” Gaffney says. If hair loss is the only lingering symptom of the coronavirus, she says she feels fortunate, knowing it could have been even worse.
This type of hair loss typically has no other symptoms. For people who also have itching or pain, the doctor recommends coming in to have it looked at.