In late October, my wife, Mel, went into the hospital for septic shock. She spent three days in the ICU, and over three weeks recovering in the hospital. It was easily the most stressful time of our lives. She didn’t have COVID, but what she experienced, according to most of the doctors we met with, was very COVID-like. In fact, it was so much like COVID that she was tested three times for the virus while in the hospital. But then, once she was home recovering, and we were both counting our blessings, her hair began to fall out. Clumps of it, actually. It filled the sink, and shower drain, and lined her pillow each morning. In fact, as I write this article in late February, it’s still falling out.
As a husband who loves his wife more than anything, it’s absolutely terrifying to have had such a close call — thinking maybe you are out of the woods, only to see your wife pull out handfuls of hair each day. All of it felt like maybe the illness was coming back, or perhaps something new had developed, and it really was only a matter of time until Mel would be right back in the hospital.
Naturally, we asked Mel’s doctor about all of this, and she diagnosed her with telogen effluvium. Now, for those of you like me, who had never heard of this condition, it is essentially temporary hair loss caused by extreme stress on the body. Harvard Health Publishing describes it this way. At any given time, 85% to 90% of your hair is actively growing. The rest is in a resting phase. Meaning that the hair will fall out, and be replaced with new hair. However, “[in] a person with telogen effluvium, some body change or shock pushes more hairs into the telogen phase (resting phase). Typically in this condition, about 30% of the hairs stop growing and go into the resting phase before falling out. So if you have telogen effluvium, you may lose an average of 300 hairs a day instead of 100.”
And apparently it’s not just Mel who is struggling with hair loss. In the last 12 months, Google searches for hair loss increased by 8%. This is all according to Spate, a data science firm. To put a number on those searches, we are looking at 829,000 hair loss-related searches in the U.S. alone. And though hair loss is usually more associated with middle aged men, women are more likely to suffer from telogen effluvium. It’s actually quite common after childbirth, and according to a recent article in the New York Times, losing your hair after contracting COVID is becoming a pretty common recovery symptom. But it’s not only people who have actually contracted the virus. The very real stress of living though a pandemic is making a lot of people lose a lot of hair.
Dr. Abigail Cline is a dermatologist at New York Medical College. She recently conducted research on pandemic-related hair loss, and while chatting with the New York Times, she gave this very telling summation of why so many people are suffering from telogen effluvium: “Any type of severe stress can trigger it, whether it’s stress on your body from illness or emotional stress such as the death of a loved one. Even though not everyone has been infected with Covid-19, we’re all living with it.”
Sadly, according to Harvard Health Publishing, there is no official treatment for telogen effluvium. However, most experts agree that it is a temporary condition. This is exactly what Mel’s doctor told us. That it will, in a few months, resolve itself. However, Harvard Health suggested meeting with a dietitian to see if they can recommend any dietary changes that might promote hair growth. They also suggested consulting your doctor to see if any of the medications you are on might be contributing to the condition. And some people have had luck with minoxidil (Rogaine).
In the case of my wife, she did a little at-home haircut. Luckily for Mel, all the hair loss has been isolated to the sides and back of her head, so she cut her hair a little shorter in a style that looks pretty cute when pulled into pigtails, and makes her hair loss almost unnoticeable. Well … outside of all the sinks we’ve been unclogging. But hey, that’s a quick fix.
On the whole, realize that if you are losing hair in the middle of this never ending year, you are totally not alone — even though it seems to be one more kick in the teeth during a time when we’ve already been taking a beating. Chat with your doctor about it, and hopefully, if it is a result of telogen effluvium, your hair will improve steadily (along with the rest of the year).