SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Some COVID-19 survivors are noticing a surprising symptom months after their battle with the virus: hair loss.
Nikki Privett said she had a mild case of COVID-19 back in April, but several months later, she says her hair started falling out in chunks.
“I noticed that more and more was coming out in my hands and then eventually in July it became handfuls,” she told our sister station WRTV in Indianapolis.
Dr. Nancy Maly, a physician in dermatology at Sharp Rees-Stealy, said she has seen more patients with complaints about hair loss recently, both from those who have recovered from COVID and those who have not been infected.
"I definitely have seen more patients lately coming in for hair loss -- with and without having had COVID," Maly said. "From what we know about COVID, there's not really a compelling reason to believe that it's the virus itself but more likely it's this stress-induced kind of hair loss that we know about and see all the time."
Doctors believe it’s most likely a condition called telogen effluvium, a type of hair loss that can affect both women and men, and typically starts about three months after a stressful event.
It can be triggered by emotional stress like a job loss or the death of a loved one, or by physical stress like a serious illness.
Typically, adults shed about 100 hairs a day. But Dr. Maly said when your body is in shock or fighting a disease, there can be backlog on that hair loss.
“During that stressful time, your body is prioritizing the most important functions and shedding your hair is not one of them,” she said. “So you end up having that delayed reaction where the hairs that were supposed to fall out during that time fall out later.”
There is not a direct treatment for telogen effluvium but this temporary form of hair loss usually resolves itself after about three to six months, she said.
There’s also early research showing a different kind of link between hair loss and the virus.
Two small studies showed that bald men may be up to 40 percent more at risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19. Scientists theorize it’s because bald men have higher levels of a hormone called adrogen that seems to help the virus enter cells.