Covid-19 is the most pressing public health problem of this decade, if not the century. With more than 33 million cases, it has resulted in 1 million deaths – with 204,000 of this coming from the United States alone.
Despite the wealth of Covid-19 literature that has been published, much is still unknown about the disease. Recently, experts have uncovered another one of the virus's effects on the body: hair loss.
What is Hair Loss?
Hair loss involves the shedding of more than the normal 100 strands a day. This problem can be caused by a lot of things, including genetics, age, medications, stress, hormonal changes, and certain diseases. As of date, it seems that Covid-19 could be added to the list of hair-affecting maladies as well.
Covid-19 and Hair Fall
According to experts, Covid-19 patients who experience hair loss are said to suffer from telogen effluvium. A temporary condition, it can be triggered by stress, dietary habits, weight loss, fever, and illnesses such as Covid-19.
Telogen effluvium happens when the hair prematurely enters the resting phase of hair growth, which is also known as telogen. It could affect 30% of your locks, which could vastly increase hair loss to as much as 300 strands a day.
The effects are usually noticeable 2-5 months after the Covid-19 infection. After all, this is the length of time that the hair ‘rests’ before they fall out.
While hair loss is not that visible at first, it eventually leads to more obvious balding patches. Over time, people with telogen effluvium will notice more hair clumps when they wash or comb their hair. The simple act of sleeping can even lead to tufts of mane on the pillowcase.
Although temporary, a bout of telogen effluvium can last for as long as 6 months. This can be particularly alarming for some, even though it rarely leads to complete baldness.
To make a positive diagnosis of telogen effluvium, your physician will check your scalp. He/she may gently tug on your locks. If four or more strands give out, this could mean that you are suffering from the said condition.
Your physician will check your hair’s appearance as well. A white bulb on your hair, something that is characteristic of the telogen phase, is said to be another telltale sign of the condition.
Because telogen effluvium can be triggered by a variety of causes, it's essential to address the root cause. While this is possible for other triggers, it does not apply to Covid-19 because of the lack of established treatments. With that being said, you can still focus on activities that may help reduce further hair loss.
• Improve your dietary habits
As mentioned, nutrition plays a role in hair loss. Deficiencies in Iron, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D could lead to worse symptoms. To prevent this, it's best if you incorporate the following growth-boosting nutrients in your diet:
Protein is vital for the building and repair of body tissues. Without adequate amounts of these, you get to lose more hair in the process. To avoid more hair fall, you should follow the recommended dietary allowance of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram. This equates to an average of 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men.
◦ Vitamin B Complex
The B vitamins work to maintain the central nervous system – and regulate one's metabolism. It's also vital for the hair. The best example of this is Biotin. Not only will this help improve hair quality, but it can make your mane thicker and shinier as well.
Another important vitamin for the hair is B12, which helps in the production of red blood cells. These bring oxygen and nutrients to the scalp, which play a role in better and faster hair growth.
Low levels of selenium can lead to hair loss. As such, you need to follow the recommended dietary allowance which is 70 to 350 micrograms per day. Make sure to adhere to these numbers though, as too much selenium could lead to hair fall as well.
Zinc is necessary for tissue growth and repair. According to a study, zinc deficiency is a marker for telogen effluvium, among other hair loss problems. In light of this, proper zinc supplementation may hold the key against hair shedding.
• Use gentle hair care products
Some shampoos and conditioners may lead to more hair loss. To avoid these, experts recommend the use of gentle hair products. Make sure to read the label as you need to avoid ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate. The buildup of this chemical in the scalp can trigger more hair fall.
Even if your shampoo does not contain sodium lauryl sulfate, you should remember to rinse your hair carefully and thoroughly. This will help prevent the accumulation of any chemicals that may harm your hair.
• Spoil your hair
Telogen effluvium is stressful enough as it is. It wouldn’t hurt to take good care of your hair as this will help prevent additional hair loss.
If you can, use a silk pillowcase or turban. Any of these could help reduce friction, which could further contribute to shedding.
• Minoxidil or other drugs for you?
Minoxidil is a medication that can help reduce the telogen stage of hair. It can also help prolong the anagen phase of hair, which could lead to better hair growth. Although Minoxidil is effective, experts only recommend this for patients with chronic telogen effluvium (shedding of more than 6 months).
How to Prevent Covid-19 Related Hair Loss
Prevention is better than cure, doctors always say. Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent telogen effluvium. The next best thing you could do, however, is to keep yourself safe from Covid-19. While it's easier said than done, it’s always best to follow the World Health Organization’s advice for the public:
• Wear a mask / face covering
• Clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub.
• Observe social distancing. Keep yourself at least 1 meter from the next person.
• Avoid going to crowded areas in the meantime.
• Refrain from touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
• Observe good respiratory hygiene.
• Stay home, if you can.
Remember – the virus is everywhere! Following the tips above can keep you safe from the fatal (not to mention hair loss-inducing) disease.