More and more COVID-19 survivors are reporting excessive hair loss, and hair restoration professionals are seeing an uptick in patients.
Weeks after recovering from coronavirus, Jennifer Shaddox of Haverhill, Massachusetts, woke up one morning with a clump of hair on her pillow.
"It was really scary, because I was thinking, 'My gosh, if I keep on brushing, what's going to happen?'" Shaddox recalled.
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Another COVID-19 survivor, Alison Kurtzman, tells a similar story.
"I had a lot of breakdowns. After taking a shower, I would cry, because there was so much hair in the shower," Kurtzman said.
Both women said they were told by friends, and even by doctors, that it was related to their battle with COVID-19.
But is hair loss a real side effect of the novel coronavirus?
"For this past year, people in general have associated hair loss with COVID, and it's not so much with COVID itself," said Dr. Matthew Lopresti, the chief surgeon at Leonard Hair Transplant Associates.
Lopresti says that there's no evidence the virus directly causes hair loss, and that it's more likely a result of the unusual stress that comes with a severe illness.
"An increase in stress can increase cortisol, which is a stress hormone, which can push your hair from a growth phase into fallout phase, and that fallout phase is typically temporary and reversible," Lopresti said.
Lopresti says the hair restoration industry is booming amid the pandemic, thanks in large part to the amount of time people are spending on virtual meetings.
"I think more people are looking at themselves more and more compared to pre-COVID," Lopresti said. "COVID in itself has sparked more awareness of trying to be more healthy and potentially looking a little bit better, if that's a possibility."
Kurtzman admits she's still self-conscious a year later. But after surviving a deadly virus, she's trying to keep everything in perspective.
"It sounds trivial," Kurtzman said. "But it's still something that is difficult, and it's still technically something I'm dealing with."
Lopresti says this kind of stress-related hair loss can often be reversed within three to six months.