It is without question that COVID has taken a toll on the entire world physically and mentally. From a medical perspective, the United States alone has lost 800,000 lives. With the emergence of new variants, the most recent one being Omicron, it appears that we will continue to face these challenges. While scientists have confirmed and continue to caution COVID's long-term health effects, including respiration issues, kidney impairment, and paralysis, they failed to address the correlation between COVID and hair loss. Around 20% of hospitalized patients report hair loss. Scientists believe the sudden hair loss to be Telogen Effluvium (TE); once hair enters the telogen phase, hair growth rapidly declines. An additional hair loss condition, which is more severe than TE, is Alopecia Areata. There are various types of Alopecia depending on the severity of hair loss. In the context of COVID, reported Alopecia cases are likely Patchy Alopecia Areata, hair loss occurring in patches on the scalp. This is a milder type of hair loss compared to others. With both TE and Patchy Alopecia, doctors face difficulty pinpointing the cause. The various factors possibly responsible include stress and compromised immune systems, which have all been exacerbated by COVID.
Stress and trauma-related issues are among the most common causes of TE and Alopecia. Without question, COVID has been and continues to be a significant stressor for people of all ages. Quite frankly, anyone who has managed to emerge unscathed from the unimaginable changes COVID has brought should consider themselves lucky. The emergence of hair loss when triggered by an event, like contracting COVID, occurs several months after the fact. This time gap, in combination with the fact that there is no cure for these conditions, makes these patients' lives more difficult.
For those already facing Alopecia or TE, a weaker immune system caused by COVID certainly doesn't help. Most hair loss conditions are autoimmune-related, meaning COVID can only exacerbate one's current autoimmune state. This means a case of Patchy Alopecia could develop into Alopecia Totalis or Universalis. Alopecia Totalis is the hair loss on the scalp, while Universalis is the complete loss of hair. Regardless of where someone lies on the hair loss spectrum, post-COVID symptoms can make them more susceptible to hair loss.
Finally, the most important question is: How can TE or Alopecia be treated? This question is not met with a simple response. For starters, there is no medication guaranteed to produce hair growth. However, because TE is rather mild on the spectrum of hair loss, patients typically experience regrowth. On the other hand, those with Alopecia may experience regrowth at any time or stagnation. It is entirely possible to have complete hair regrowth only to lose it again. With that said, it is also essential to consider the mental impact caused by hair loss. Universally, hair is an incredibly valued symbol of beauty. Regardless of the degree of hair loss, the experience can be mentally exhausting. With the effects COVID has had on mental health, especially for teens, navigating the current world with hair loss is even more challenging.
Although more than 150 million people face hair loss conditions globally, little awareness exists for conditions like TE and Alopecia. Because Alopecia affects hair rather than an organ, society overlooks these conditions. Little empathy for Alopecia exists thus equating to scant efforts made to educate society. Many do not even know the names of these conditions, let alone basic information regarding the conditions. Gaining basic awareness for hair loss conditions is a must, and with increasing reported cases, now is the time to usher attention.
Covid Daily Tracker Weekly Review. (2021, December 17). CDC. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html
Palmer, C. (2021, November 10). Can You Experience Hair Loss After Having COVID-19? (S. Vergnaud, Ed.). GoodRx Health. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from https://www.goodrx.com/conditions/covid-19/covid-hair-loss
Photo: New York Times