My hair has been falling out like crazy and it’s stressing me out. I have no idea what’s causing it, but I’m 47 and I’ve heard this happens around menopause. I also got alpha gal syndrome, which is a red meat allergy caused by a tick bite, about a year and a half ago. I’ve heard that hair loss is a side effect, so I’m trying to cut out dairy where possible too. I’m telling myself I can splurge on a cute wig if it gets too bad. In the meantime there may be another cause of my hair loss. I’m pretty sure I got covid early in March, when I had loss of smell and taste and trouble breathing. People who recover from even “mild” cases are noticing their hair and sometimes teeth falling out. This story came out a little while ago and I’m just discovering it now. I’m including excerpts from two articles from the NY Times, on hair loss (that’s from September) and tooth loss (late November). Adult tooth loss is happening to survivors without pain or blood, which doctors say is not typical.
Mrs. Rowe, who was hospitalized for 12 days in April with symptoms of the coronavirus, soon found strikingly similar stories in online groups of Covid-19 survivors. Many said that several months after contracting the virus, they began shedding startling amounts of hair.
Doctors say they too are seeing many more patients with hair loss, a phenomenon they believe is indeed related to the coronavirus pandemic, affecting both people who had the virus and those who never became sick.
In normal times, some people shed noticeable amounts of hair after a profoundly stressful experience such as an illness, major surgery or emotional trauma.
Now, doctors say, many patients recovering from Covid-19 are experiencing hair loss — not from the virus itself, but from the physiological stress of fighting it off. Many people who never contracted the virus are also losing hair, because of emotional stress from job loss, financial strain, deaths of family members or other devastating developments stemming from the pandemic.
“There’s many, many stresses in many ways surrounding this pandemic, and we’re still seeing hair loss because a lot of the stress hasn’t gone away,” said Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal, an associate professor of dermatology at the Cleveland Clinic.
Before the pandemic, there were weeks when Dr. Khetarpal didn’t see a single patient with hair loss of this type. Now, she said, about 20 such patients a week come in. One was a woman having difficulty home-schooling two young children while also working from home. Another was a second-grade teacher anxiously trying to ensure that all her students had computers and internet access for online instruction.
Dr. Emma Guttman-Yassky, the incoming chairwoman of the dermatology department at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, said she has treated many frontline medical workers for hair loss, including her hospital’s employees.
“Some of them had Covid, but not all of them,” she said. “It’s the stress of the situation. They were apart from their families, they worked for many hours.”
“We are now beginning to examine some of the bewildering and sometimes disabling symptoms that patients are suffering months after they’ve recovered from Covid,” including these accounts of dental issues and teeth loss, said Dr. William W. Li, president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, a nonprofit that studies the health and disease of blood vessels.
Teeth falling out without any blood is unusual, Dr. Li said, and provides a clue that there might be something going on with the blood vessels in the gums.
The new coronavirus wreaks havoc by binding to the ACE2 protein, which is ubiquitous in the human body. Not only is it found in the lungs, but also on nerve and endothelial cells. Therefore, Dr. Li says, it’s possible that the virus has damaged the blood vessels that keep the teeth alive in Covid-19 survivors; that also may explain why those who have lost their teeth feel no pain.
In a survey of 1,500 recovered covid patients, almost a third said that they had unusual hair loss. The doctor’s assessment that hair loss could just be stress seems like the default explanation when the exact cause is unknown. Of course stress can cause hair loss. Many of us have never experienced stress like this in our lives before. However I’m used to doctors dismissing things they can’t figure out by saying “stress.” Health is complicated and often needs detective work. There’s so much that’s unknown around coronavirus and some of the long term effects are just being discovered now.
In our podcast coming out this Sunday I talk about this as Kaiser brought up the topic of hair. I figured I may as well write about it. I’m trying not to freak out because apart from getting my thyroid and hormone levels checked there’s not much I can do. Plus it’s just hair and I feel fine overall. I’m grateful for my health and am making it a priority to eat better. (OK yesterday I had a chocolate bar, several spoonfuls of peanut butter, cheerios and some microwave popcorn but today is a new day.)
Alyssa Milano bugs but this video rings true for me. I didn’t see it when it came out in August.
Photos credit: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash and Bennie Luka/Pexels. Image on the frontpage is a screenshot from this Instagram video by Alyssa Milano.