Now that we’re well over a year into this pandemic, we’re starting to learn more and more about the long-term impact of the COVID-19 virus.
Many people who tested positive ended up recovering completely. Many others were completely asymptomatic, meaning they didn’t experience any symptoms at all. But there is a percentage of people who continue to experience COVID symptoms and side effects after their initial recovery.
One of those side effects can take months to develop. Here’s what it is:
What Is Long COVID-19?
According to the Mayo Clinic, people who continue to experience symptoms of COVID-19 after their initial recovery have been dubbed “long haulers.” Their condition is described as “long COVID-19.”
Health issues developed after contracting the virus that persisted for more than four weeks after a COVID diagnosis. Because the virus can damage the lungs, heart, and brain, these people face an increased risk of long-term health problems. The symptoms can sometimes persist for months.
Those who are most at risk for lingering COVID symptoms are older people and those who have serious medical conditions. However, there have been reports from young, otherwise healthy people of feeling unwell for months after infection.
Some of the lingering symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Joint pain
- Chest pain
- Memory, concentration or sleep problems
- Muscle pain or headache
- Fast or pounding heartbeat
- Loss of smell or taste
- Depression or anxiety
- Dizziness when you stand
- Worsened symptoms after physical or mental activities
Lingering Side Effects Have Also Been Reported
In addition to lingering symptoms, COVID-19 can also leave behind side effects.
We’ve told you about COVID nails, which can look like ridges, grooves, or indentations that run horizontally across your nail plate. There’s also COVID tongue, which shows up as bumps on the tongue, overall redness, and swelling. Some patients have even reported feeling a burning sensation in their mouth and a loss of taste.
There have also been reports of COVID toes, which are small “purple-colored” lesions on the tips of the toes, as well as skin rashes.
A new COVID side effect has recently emerged that apparently takes months to develop. It’s none other than hair loss.
COVID Hair Loss Is Real
This latest COVID-19 side effect took a while to show up, but now an increasing number of people are reporting that COVID hair loss is happening to them.
According to Dr. Esther Freeman, the director of the Dermatology COVID-19 Registry, a database of skin and hair manifestations of COVID-19, more and more people who’ve recovered from the virus have noticed hair loss.
But this doesn’t really come as much of a surprise to medical professionals. As the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) explains, “hair shedding” is normal after a person has a fever. Since that is a common symptom of COVID-19, some people will experience hair loss after their recovery.
“The medical name for this type of hair shedding is telogen effluvium. It happens when more hairs than normal enter the shedding (telogen) phase of the hair growth life cycle at the same time,” the AAD website reads. “A fever or illness can force more hairs into the shedding phase.”
It Happened To Drake
Anecdotal evidence that this side effect can happen––but doesn’t show up for months––is a story from rapper Drake.
He recently revealed that he had COVID-19, and ended up with hair loss because of it.
When a fan posted side-by-side photos of the 34-year-old on Instagram, the images showed a noticeable difference in the size of the heart shape that Drake has shaved into his hairline. The pre-COVID pic showed a complete heart in Drake’s hairline. In the post-COVID pic, only the top of the heart was visible.
“That heart is stressed ??,” the fan wrote in the caption.
In response, Drake explained what happened. He wrote, “I had Covid that s–t grew in weird I had to start again ? it’s coming back don’t diss.”
Stress Can Cause Shedding, Too
If you have experienced hair shedding during the pandemic, it isn’t necessarily a guarantee that you’ve had COVID-19.
As infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, explains, COVID is just one illness that can cause telogen effluvium. It can be seen after many different types of illnesses, and it can also be caused by stress.
“Emotional stress can also force more hairs than normal into the shedding phase,” the AAD says. “And who isn’t feeling more stressed and anxious during the pandemic?”
Dr. Marc Glashofer, hair loss expert with The Derm Group, has seen an increase in telogen effluvium cases at his practice. He says this is all about “big stress.”
“When I see somebody who has shedding, I don’t ask about daily stress like your job or traffic. We’re talking about big stress like the death of a loved one, change in career, a divorce and COVID—COVID is a big stress,” Glashofer said.
How Long Will The Shedding Last?
According to Health.com, both men and women can develop telogen effluvium. If COVID-19 causes this condition, the AAD says people can expect to see noticeable hair shedding approximately two to three months after the illness.
“Handfuls of hair can come out when you shower or brush your hair,” the AAD says.
The shedding can continue for six to nine months. But it will most likely stop at that point, and then the hair will return to normal. The AAD notes that as the hair grows back, there will be “short hairs that are all the same length by your hairline.”
You Just Have To Wait It Out
If you’re wondering, there is no remedy for hair loss caused by COVID. Anyone who’s experienced this has to wait it out and give the hair time to grow. However, you can try to speed up regrowth with a topical minoxidil 5% solution, like Rogaine or by taking hair growth supplements such as EXT Hair Revitalizing Complex from HairClub.
But the takeaway here is that there’s no need to panic. The hair will eventually grow back and get back to normal, especially by aiding its regrowth.