Hair Loss

Pandemic stress has caused a hair loss crisis

Pandemic stress has caused a hair loss crisis

Key points to remember

  • Many people have lost their hair after recovering from COVID-19 due to a stress-induced condition called telogen effluvium.
  • This type of hair loss has also affected people who have not contracted the coronavirus.
  • Telogen effluvium is not permanent and hair usually regrows as long as stress levels are reduced.

Meredith McGraw first noticed her hair was thinning dramatically in March, about three months after she was diagnosed with COVID-19.

The hair loss did not happen gradually or subtly; it was sudden and alarming. McGraw said she was deeply distressed by the “clumps and piles” of “dry, straw-like, matted hair” falling from her scalp.

“I was losing tons of hair and it was falling all at once, tangling in knots with the hair tied up while I was sleeping or washing my hair,” she told Verywell. “I often cried and felt hopeless. I was terrified of people seeing me with that hair.

McGraw is far from alone. A study found that among patients hospitalized with COVID, 22% suffered from hair loss months after discharge. Over the summer, the Institute of Trichologists (IoT) in the UK surveyed its members and found that 79% said they had seen cases of “post-COVD hair loss” in their clinics, The Guardian reported.

What exactly causes former COVID patients to lose their hair? The answer isn’t entirely straightforward, but experts say it likely has more to do with the stress of contracting the virus than the illness itself.

“There are many reasons why people experience hair loss, and stress is one of them,” Meg Mill, Doctor of Pharmacya functional medicine practitioner, told Verywell.

Telogen effluvium, the clinical term for stress-related hair loss, typically occurs about three months after a stressful event, Mill said.

She added that people can lose their hair after childbirth or major surgery, and healthcare practitioners are seeing the same results after COVID-19 infection in some people. High levels of stress can disrupt the natural hair growth cycle and lead to excessive hair loss and hair loss.

Not just COVID patients

Since much of the world has been under unprecedented levels of stress over the past two years, telogen effluvium has also affected many people who have not caught the virus, myself included.

In the summer of 2020, just months into the pandemic, my hair was falling out in clumps much bigger than usual. I was used to a certain amount of regular shedding because my hair is curly and quite thick – or at least it was. But over time my hair thinned out and I started to dread washing my hair because I was afraid of how much would fall out in the shower.

When I told my doctor about it, his first guess was some kind of vitamin or nutrient deficiency, like iron or vitamin B12. I did several rounds of blood tests to try and find out the cause, but ultimately we concluded that I was simply overwhelmed with stress, spending too much time in fight or flight mode.

Fortunately, when it comes to telogen effluvium, hair loss isn’t permanent, Mill said. Still, losing that much hair can be incredibly emotionally taxing, which is why many, including McGraw, have turned to online and in-person support groups.

Lisa Penziner, RN, who founded the COVID-19 Long Haul Support Group, told Verywell that the group has helped people with hair loss feel less isolated and alone.

“We’ve had members who lost parts of their hair, had thinning hair, or even lost most of their hair,” Penziner said. “Some have even chosen to shave their heads to reduce the emotional toll of hair loss.”

These support groups have also helped equip hair loss sufferers with the tools they need to promote regrowth once the thinning has stopped.

Now that McGraw’s hair has stopped falling out, she said she does hair oil masks, uses biotin shampoo, does apple cider rinses and takes hair and nail supplements. . All of these measures can be helpful, Mill said, adding that biotin, iron, zinc, B6, B12 and folic acid are all essential for hair growth.

But the best way to fight hair loss is to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone.

“The number one way to lower cortisol is to prioritize sleep,” Mill said. “Cortisol levels drop and melatonin increases while we sleep, so getting enough sleep is crucial.”

Another simple technique to reduce cortisol is to practice deep breathing, she added. Taking deep breaths can tap into the parasympathetic nervous system, which predominates in calm “rest and digest” conditions, and reduces activities in the region of the brain that trigger the flight or flight reflex.

“Starting practices like meditation, mindfulness, gratitude journaling that help your body relax are also beneficial for reducing cortisol levels and increasing hair regrowth,” Mill said, pointing out some of the same self-care and wellness practices I used to manage my own stress. – related hair loss.

“Focus on reducing your stress and consuming a variety of nutrients in your diet to regain your lush hair.”

What this means for you

If you have experienced hair loss after a COVID-19 infection or following a stressful event, you are not alone. Focus on reducing stress in your life, eat well and get more sleep to help lower cortisol levels.

The information in this article is current as of the date indicated, which means that more recent information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.