Covid-19 has completely taken over the world – it’s a virus that has brought the planet to a total standstill this year. It’s wreaked havoc with it’s debilitating symptoms and in some cases its life-threatening potential, in every country and on every continent.
To make matters worse, survivors are beginning to report long term side effects that they're still dealing with months after contraction, despite being classed as “recovered”… And one of them, is hair loss.
A significant amount of people have also reported symptoms including kidney problems, insomnia, chronic fatigue and some have even developed kidney disease and had strokes.
In regards to hair loss however, one survey that asked survivors to relay their post Covid-19 symptoms, found that out of 1,700, a third of them reported noticeable hair loss.
Despite there being no concrete evidence that the virus itself causes hair loss, doctors and scientists are suggesting that the emotional and physical toll of Covid-19 is causing some bodies to enter and stay in the telogen phase of their hair growth cycle. And, they stay there… But, why?
When our body is under enormous stress, either because it’s emotionally distressed, recovering from an injury, accident or major surgery, or a very high fever (a key indicator of Covid-19), the body goes into it’s own version of lockdown and prioritises only the key bodily functions it needs to carry out in order to survive.
The hair cycle has three main stages; Anagen (Growth), Catalan (Transitional) and Telogen (Rest). When the telogen phase becomes stuck or dormant down to the reasons above, it’s referred to as TE – Telogen Effluvium.
Usually, the average person will have 5-10% of their hair strands in the telogen phase at one time.
To compare, those with TE will have around 30%, which will increase the appearance of thinning hair and result in an increase in loss of hair too.
In other words, an average person loses around 100 hairs per day; a person with TE will lose around 300, which can be incredibly distressing and upsetting.
People actually have a deep relationship with their hair – when it’s in poor condition, it can negatively affect our self esteem, confidence and happiness in a significant way. Fortunately, TE is temporary which sets it apart from conditions like alopecia which is an auto-immune condition that results in permanent hair loss.
Unfortunately, it can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to recover from TE and get the hair cycle back on track. The body needs to know it’s safe and well before it will start spending energy and nutrition on hair growth again.
So, you’re a Covid-19 survivor experiencing hair loss… What can you do to help your hair?
If you’re a Covid-19 survivor experiencing hair loss as a “long-haul” symptom, firstly take comfort in knowing you’re not alone and other survivors are reporting similar issues. We recommend joining the Facebook Group Covid-19 Survivors Corps.
Here you can seek out other people going through similar symptoms and create a support network who can empathise and help you when it feels too much, and where you can all share advice on what’s aiding recovery.
When it comes to stress-induced hair loss, emotional anxiety surrounding the hair loss leaves you vulnerable to getting caught up in a catch-22 vicious cycle. If the stress doesn’t diminish, the body won’t deem it safe to re-start growing hair.
Stress can have a major impact on hair loss and shedding.
Try massaging your scalp to help relieve stress, but also gently stimulate blood flow to the scalp and encourage the hair follicles to restart.
In addition, we recommend reading our blog on How To Care For Yourself During Covid-19, and start thinking about small ways in which you can get away from it all, when you actually can’t get away from it all.
The best way to fuel your hair and let your body know it’s OK is via your diet.
As well as keeping up with a balanced diet, try stocking up on lots of protein and Vitamin C which will help your body absorb iron. Your body uses iron to make haemoglobin; a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body, including the muscles. Your body needs this kind of nutrition, particularly when recovering from any illness, infection or virus.
Gentle exercise like yoga and pilates can help with blood flow and reducing stress levels too, so if you can’t get back to the gym yet because of other long term symptoms like chronic fatigue and muscle weakness, try easing into it with gentle movement like these exercise forms offer, and remember to take it all at your own pace.
Developing a healthy lifestyle and finding ways to manage your stress are the quickest ways to encourage hair growth again and eek your body out of telogen effluvium. Rest assured, the hair will grow back: try not to let stress and worry become a part of the problem again.
As we learn more about the behaviour of the Covid-19 virus, information is constantly being updated around how to support the fight against it. Stay up to date with coronavirus advice on the NHS website.