Hair loss is tricky to deal with no matter how it comes about, but a study has found that 22% of COVID-19 sufferers could face hair loss within six months of infection.
The study, from researchers in Wuhan, China, looked at several long-term symptoms of COVID and found that 359 out of 1,655 hospital patients suffered from hair loss, with women at greater risk.
Published in medical journal, The Lancet, the study also found that joint pain, fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath were the main long-term symptoms.
Persistent stress was cited as another long-term symptom for COVID sufferers. Stress is known to be among the causes of hair loss.
The NHS does not list hair loss as a symptom of coronavirus.
What causes hair loss?
Hair loss, is known medically as alopecia and is fairly common. According to the NHS the most common type of hair loss is known as male and female pattern baldness, which is thought to be inherited.
Other known causes of temporary hair loss include: illness, stress, cancer treatment, weight loss and iron deficiency. Mothers may also experience post-pregnancy hair loss.
Male and female pattern baldness tends to happen as people grow older.
Hormone-related hair loss in women, “divides itself between perimenopausal hair thinning and hair loss as a result of the reduction in production of oestrogen, and post-natal - after childbirth women often experience significant hair loss,” Laura Sagen, founder of The Hair Fuel, tells Yahoo UK.
“It is a result of elevated levels of oestrogen during pregnancy that now return to normal levels and all the hair that should have fallen out during pregnancy, but didn't, now starts to shed at the same time and that can be a shocking experience for those unfamiliar with this phenomena.”
Stress-related hair loss can occur in all genders and occurs during high-stress periods when the body focuses its provision of nutrients to life-supporting functions (i.e. not hair).
Sagen believes "managing stress becomes paramount" in relation to COVID-related hair loss.
"Hair growth is not one of the crucial life-supporting functions so our body reduces its support for it,” Sagen explains.
“This can result in as much as 30-50% of the hair follicles simultaneously entering the telogen or 'shedding' phase of hair growth.”
For men with age-related hair loss, the scalp tension theory of hair loss suggests the top muscle in the scalp known as Galea aponeurotica, becomes increasingly inflamed as people age which can lead to hair loss.
“To fight this inflammation the body sends DHT - a by-product of testosterone, Dihydrotestosterone, to fight the inflammation in the scalp,” Sagen says.
“However DHT is also known to destroy subcutaneous fat in the scalp and our hair needs this fat cushioning to reach maturity. Without this cushioning hair enters a hair follicle miniaturisation cycle as a result that leads to increase in hair thinning and eventual hair loss.”
Hair loss can also be linked to a number of other medical conditions, such as an under-active thyroid, lack of nutrients and certain medications.
“In the case of under-active thyroid, the body needs those thyroid hormones T3 and T4 to lead to production of keratinocytes - cells involved in creating the hair strand. If the body doesn't have enough of these, this leads to hair thinning,” Sagen says.
“Alopecia areata also leads to severe hair loss - an autoimmune disease where the body expels hair follicles as it deems them as foreign bodies.
"Often it is actually medication and lack of nutrients that lead to hair loss, rather than the disease itself.
"In instances where your medication is causing hair loss, it is important to support your body with balanced nutrition, improving blood flow to the scalp and have an active lifestyle. Hair loss in this case becomes something you need to manage, rather than eliminate. Never change your prescribed medications without consulting your GP first.”
Does hair loss affect men or women more?
While Sagen says hair loss is “more visible” in men, the stigma is stronger for women.
“Hair loss is certainly more visible in men, there isn't as much stigma attached to a man who shaves his head. However amongst women hair loss is often a discrete topic and many women come up with different solutions for it - be it wigs or extensions - to hide the issue,” Sagen adds.
“Due to higher amounts of androgens in males, hair loss is a more 'popular' problem amongst males, however because of insufficient attention paid to female hair loss and hair thinning, women can face a lot more difficult struggle around it.”
Sagen adds that the reason our hair is so intrinsically tied to our confidence is because it “reflects how we look at and relate to ourselves”.
She continues: “On a primal level we want to signal not just a potential mate, but everyone around us that we are healthy and happy - and hair that is in poor condition signals otherwise.”
What are the options for people experiencing hair loss?
You should see your GP if you have developed sudden hair loss or your hair loss is causing you concern.
Hair loss caused by a medical condition usually grows back once you've recovered and the NHS cautions that no hair loss treatment is 100% effective.
Finasteride and minoxidil are the main treatments for male pattern baldness. Minoxidil can also be used to treat female pattern baldness.
For those suffering from hair loss, Sagen suggests first checking if you are lacking any vitamins through a blood test and also tracing back to see if you’ve experienced a particularly stressful period recently.
“Develop a ritual around caring for your hair: massage your scalp every evening before bed, while winding out and perhaps listening to soothing music and burning an aromatherapy candle,” Sagen says.
“Hair regrowth journey is a holistic one, so developing curiosity, equipping yourself with patience and adopting a long-term view of it are all inherent parts of it.”
Watch: What is long COVID?
What can you do to help prevent hair loss?
To keep your scalp healthy, Sagen suggests focusing on your blood flow. “So scalp massages, treatments that improve blood flow to the scalp in general, such as derma rollers or derma stamps, inversion method and such,” she says.
“Pay attention to what you eat and how you treat your body. Your nutrition is paramount to preventing hair loss as it is important to consume sufficient amounts of nutrients.”
Sagen also recommends that a blood check can help to spot any nutritional deficiencies, which could be causing hair loss.
Another factor to consider is managing your stress.
“Adopting mindfulness and practices supporting your mental health is your key to tackle this. As weird as it sounds, getting a therapist and having a good cry to release cortisol is one of the best things to do when it comes to hair loss," Sagen says.
Exercising can also be beneficial as it helps to decrease stress by reducing your cortisol (stress hormone) levels and improve blood flow too.