COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, can cause a wide variety of symptoms.
Although the most commonly reported symptoms of COVID-19 mostly occur in the respiratory system, some people who’ve been affected by COVID-19 have reported experiencing varying degrees of hair loss.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also confirmed that hair loss is a possible long-term complication of COVID-19.
While hair loss may sound like an alarming complication, the reality is that hair loss is quite a common symptom of diseases that can cause fever.
Below, we’ve explained how COVID-19 may cause temporary hair loss, as well as the effects you may see if you have COVID-19. We’ve also discussed your options for treating hair loss, whether from COVID-19 or other common conditions that may cause you to shed hair.
COVID-19 can cause a wide variety of short-term and long-term symptoms. The most common symptoms reported by people affected by COVID-19 are:
These symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus and can vary from mild to severe.
In addition to short-term symptoms, COVID-19 can cause certain long-term health complications that may persist for several weeks or months after the acute symptoms resolve.
Commonly reported long-term symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, chest pain and joint pain.
Although hair loss isn’t a common symptom of COVID-19, some people have experienced it as a long-term complication.
A study of COVID-19 patients published in November 2020 noted that 14 patients out of a total of 58 reported experiencing hair loss as a long-term complication of COVID-19.
On average, these patients started to experience hair loss approximately 58 days after their first symptoms of COVID-19.
While hair loss may seem like an alarming complication of COVID-19, the reality is that hair loss is quite a common occurrence after illnesses that can cause fever.
This form of hair loss is called telogen effluvium. It’s a common form of hair shedding that tends to develop as a complication of infections, hormonal changes, surgery, certain medications and illnesses that cause fever.
Telogen effluvium forces your hairs to enter into the telogen, or resting, phase of the hair growth cycle. In this phase, hairs stop actively growing. After several months, the hairs shed from your scalp en masse, causing noticeable hair loss.
If you experience telogen effluvium as a result of COVID-19, you may notice hairs falling out in the shower, on your pillow or while you brush your hair.
This type of hair loss generally doesn’t cause a receding hairline. Instead, you’ll usually notice diffuse thinning, with a fairly even pattern of hair loss across your scalp. You may find that it’s easier than normal to see your scalp through your hair, especially under bright light.
Telogen effluvium hair loss isn’t permanent, meaning any hairs you shed after becoming ill with COVID-19 will usually grow back. However, it may take several months before your hair settles down and the affected hair follicles begin to produce new hairs again.
In addition to fever, stress is also a known cause of telogen effluvium. If you’re stressed as a result of the pandemic, whether due to the virus itself or the effects it has on your life, this may also contribute to hair shedding and temporary hair loss.
In addition to COVID-19, a variety of other medical conditions may cause you to lose your hair, either temporarily or permanently. These include:
Several other conditions may also cause you to shed hair. We’ve talked more about these in our guide to the different types of alopecia.
While COVID-19 doesn’t cause male pattern baldness, some research has shown that men with male pattern baldness may have a higher risk of experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms.
For example, one small-scale study from May of 2020 found that 67 percent of people admitted to hospital with COVID-19 showed signs of pattern hair loss.
A larger-scale study published in November 2020, which featured medical data from more than 60,000 people, found that extensive amounts of graying hair and hair loss were both linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, which is itself a known risk factor for a worse case of COVID-19.
While these findings are interesting, research is still ongoing into any potential link between hair loss in men and COVID-19 severity.
If you’ve noticed your hair thinning after recovering from COVID-19, you can talk to a licensed healthcare provider to learn more about your options.
Telogen effluvium hair shedding will typically stop when the underlying cause of the hair loss is treated. After you recover from COVID-19, it may take several months before your hair starts to grow back.
During the regrowth phase, you may notice small, new hairs that are equal in length. It usually takes six to nine months for your hair to return to its normal appearance.
Since telogen effluvium hair loss isn’t caused by DHT, male pattern baldness medications such as finasteride won’t slow down or stop your shedding.
Minoxidil, a topical medication for stimulating hair growth, isn’t approved for use as a treatment for telogen effluvium. However, your healthcare provider may prescribe it off-label if they think that it may help to stimulate regrowth and restore your hair.
Simple things, such as focusing on hair-friendly habits, may also help to speed up hair regrowth and get your hair back to normal faster.
COVID-19 may cause a form of hair loss called telogen effluvium. This is a common type of hair loss that can occur after stress, infections, surgery or illnesses that cause fever.
Unlike male pattern baldness, telogen effluvium hair loss isn’t permanent, meaning any hair you shed during or after your illness with COVID-19 will eventually grow back.
In the meantime, focus on recovering from COVID-19 and practicing hair-friendly habits. If your healthcare provider has prescribed medication to improve your hair growth, make sure to use it as prescribed.