Maybe it’s happened to you. It happened to me, too. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, it’s normal to expect hair loss after a significant illness, injury, or medical procedure. Here’s why.
The type of hair loss that happens after a fever, illness, or surgery
Fever is a common symptom of COVID-19. A few months after having a high fever or recovering from an illness, many people see noticeable hair loss. But what’s actually happening is hair shedding, or more specifically, a type of hair shedding called telogen effluvium. It happens when more hairs than normal enter the shedding (telogen) phase of the hair growth cycle at the same time. Stress or medications from a fever, illness, or surgery can force more hairs into this shedding process.
It can take some time for this stress to show up in your hair. For instance, most people see noticeable hair shed two to three months after the fever or illness in question. Handfuls of hair can come out when you shower or brush. This can last for six to nine months before it stops—then most people see their hair start to look normal again.
Understanding the Triggers for Alopecia Areata with Auto Immune Disorders
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks hair follicles, leading to hair loss. The exact cause of this immune response isn't fully understood, but several factors are believed to play a role:
Genetic Predisposition: Some individuals might have a genetic predisposition that makes them more susceptible. If a close family member has alopecia areata, there's a higher risk of developing it.
Autoimmune Mechanism: The immune system mistakenly targets and damages hair follicles. Why it does this in certain individuals and not in others is still a topic of research.
Triggers: Certain factors might trigger the onset of alopecia areata or worsen existing conditions. These can include viral infections, trauma, stress, hormonal changes, or even certain medications.
Other Autoimmune Conditions: Individuals with other autoimmune disorders, like thyroid disease, vitiligo, or rheumatoid arthritis, might have an increased risk of developing alopecia areata.
Despite ongoing research, the exact mechanisms and causes of alopecia areata remain not fully elucidated. It's a complex condition with multiple contributing factors. If someone believes they're experiencing alopecia areata, they should seek advice from a dermatologist or another medical professional.
Why does this hair loss happen?
Pandemic-induced stress and post-infection inflammation can cause temporary hair loss, disrupting the normal ratio of growing to resting hairs. Growing hairs typically make up 90 percent of hair, while resting hairs make up 10 percent. When disrupted, this can shift to a 50:50 ratio.
Inflammation of the hair follicles themselves can trigger hair loss. And inflammation affects so much throughout your body, period.
- Covid creates inflammation and heat within your body that in turn inflames and burns your hair bulbs and follicles, triggering the hair to go straight to the fallout stage.
- High fever or flu-like illness can disrupt the normal ratio of growing to resting hairs.
- So the goal is to stop the follicles from premature miniaturization, aid them in healthy hair growth and up the efforts with scalp treatments and massage.
- To reduce inflammation and heat in your scalp, tighten and strengthen the follicles and hair bulb.
Because telogen effluvium is caused by stressors or changes to your body, take measures to ease internal stress ahead of major surgeries or any planned travel where you might be more vulnerable to getting sick. These measures might look like a meditation practice, sound bath, breathwork, or herbal adaptogen supplements. Steer clear of common inflammatory offenders like fried foods and refined carbohydrates. The more balanced you can keep your internal system, the better prepared you’ll be to receive stress and minimize its effects.
Hair tends to return to normal on its own
When the cause of your hair shedding is due to a fever, illness, or stress, hair tends to return to normal on its own. You just have to give it time. As your hair grows back, you’ll notice short hairs that are all the same length by your hairline. Most people see their hair regain its normal fullness within six to nine months.
If you suspect that your hair loss is caused by something more than telogen effluvium from stress or a fever, talk with a hair-loss expert or dermatologist.
What COVID taught me about dealing with telogen effluvium
I remember working in December 2019 and everyone was getting sick and no one really knew why—someone had a friend who had horrible pneumonia or the flu was the worst ever, or a client had a headache that just wouldn’t go away. If you were a hair artist at this time, I’m sure you remember a lot of this. I’m sure you also remember we all would work sick or with colds and clients would come in sick as well. You just did.
I remember my kids getting sick and then two weeks later I had a low fever but, like usual, I was still able to push myself to function, chalking it up to another virus my kids gifted me.
A few months later I noticed my hair shedding AGAIN, and a lot, and I was overwhelmed by the repeat of hair loss I felt I had just gotten under control.
I dreaded showering because of how much hair would come out. I looked at my scalp and hairline in a close-up mirror every day to see if hair was growing. I thought about it all day long, and I felt lost, like a shell of myself.
Looking back now, I know that my cycle of hair loss was connected to illness and fever and yes, it did stop and yes, two years later my hair is coming back, but here’s what I really learned: The why and the how and the what you can do.
What you can do:
CONSISTENCY IN SCALP HEALTH ROUTINE.
FIRST: Always first check with a dermatologist and your doctor (I learned this the expensive way). Get basic blood work done so you can address any imbalances off the bat.
NEXT: Begin a healthy scalp routine. So here I share Najeau not because It’s my baby but because I know that the organic oils work if you use them. I spent 4 years searching, researching, asking and doing routines and procedures that deal with hair loss and growth. Massaging in oils and nourishing ingredients with love is key for follicles to regrow, renew and heal.
A scalp routine to see you through times of stress
Only focus on what you can control. Here’s the scalp routine I recommend if you’re preparing for or recovering from telogen effluvium.
- Begin daily scalp massages.
- Shampoo scalp 2-3 times a week with pH-balancing shampoo.
- Do the Najeau Scalp Mask once a week with the addition of fresh ingredients. Think of it as your once-a-week exfoliating facial for your scalp. I recommend combining this with avocado, as avocado is known to cool down the scalp.
- Use Najeau Follicle Drops as a pre-shampoo treatment. So every time before you wash your hair (which should be 2-3 times a week) apply the follicle oils to your scalp, massage for 15 minutes and then shampoo and go.
- If you can, invest in a red light laser cap (that post and explanation is coming soon).
- Leave all mousses and dry shampoos OFF your scalp.
- Shower hair with cool to lukewarm water (whatever you can tolerate). Heat that’s too high can further weaken the balance of the scalp and hair.
You might be tempted to cover up your scalp when you experience hair shedding but try not to stifle your follicles by wearing a wig or hat all of the time. Your scalp needs oxygen, so let it breathe.
Start here and you can grow more into your routine. Most importantly, I learned to: Be patient, trust the process, stay consistent, and let go.