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This is the strangest coronavirus symptom yet

Published Aug 11th, 2020 10:52AM EDT
Coronavirus Symptoms
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  • One of the most unusual coronavirus symptoms so far typically appears after patients have cleared the virus from their systems.
  • Some COVID-19 survivors experience a condition called telogen effluvium, or the loss of hair after a stressful or traumatic event.
  • Hair loss can occur several months after a patient recovers from a coronavirus infection, and it’s typically associated with more severe cases of COVID-19.

We’ve been living with the novel coronavirus threat for more than seven months, but we still have much to learn about the pathogen that has ruined life as we know it and killed nearly 750,000 people. Each week brings us new details about the illness, and there’s no telling when we’ll finally be done learning the virus’s secrets. Some discoveries take time and we have to wait for answers. That’s the case with COVID-19 immunity, a key mystery that’s yet to be solved. The virus hasn’t been spreading between humans for long enough, so we don’t have a clear answer to that question. But vaccine programs and future outbreak management protocols may depend on it. Another example concerns an unusual situation that might qualify as the strangest coronavirus symptom yet. That’s because this COVID-19 symptom doesn’t appear alongside the other signs that point to COVID-19. Instead, it takes months for this particular symptom to present, and it usually happens after a patient recovers from the initial infection. On top of that, it may take several months for this particular symptom to clear up.

Telogen effluvium is the official name of the condition, and it translates to a form of temporary hair loss that occurs after some type of stress factor or traumatic event. As we’ve come to understand, COVID-19 recovery isn’t the same for all the people who get infected. The asymptomatic cases might never even know they had the disease unless they’re tested while they’re contagious, so they won’t know they’ve recovered. Other people will get through a serious case of COVID-19 and their recovery will last several months. It happens fairly often with people who have been intubated and mechanically ventilated, but also with patients who experienced a milder version of the illness.

Those people could deal with a lot of symptoms after they clear the virus, as the pathogen can impair the functionality of other organs. Temporary hair loss may be just another COVID-19 issue to deal with after infection.

Peggy Goroly is a 56-year-old Long Island resident who contracted COVID-19 on March 5th, and she’s been sick ever since, as Business Insider notes. She still struggles to climb stairs and walk around, and she’s dealing with fatigue, brain fog, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. Now hair loss has been piled up on top of all that.

“I went on [a Facebook support group for COVID-19 patients] one day, and someone had posted, ‘Is anybody losing hair?’ And people were actually showing clumps of hair in their hand,” Goroly said. “So, I know I’m not crazy now.”

A more famous COVID-19 survivor experienced the same phenomenon. Alyssa Milano took to Instagram to reveal she tested positive for coronavirus antibodies. She experienced loss of smell and difficulty breathing in late March, and she started experiencing hair loss after that.

Telogen effluvium is a condition that can appear some three months after a traumatic event, Dr. Nate Favini told Business Insider. “It tends to be in people who have pretty severe cases that we’ve seen it,” the doctor said. “When the body is in a really stressful situation, it basically diverts energy from growing hair to more essential things.”

With regular hair loss, you shed around 100 strands of hair per day, but people with telogen effluvium experience can lose their hair three times faster.

The condition can last up to six months, but then patients should start regrowing the hair. However, it’s unclear whether COVID-19 patients will get their hair back as fast. “With coronavirus, there’s always the caveat that we don’t understand this that well yet,” Favini said. 
The doctor advises patients to have patience and give the body the right care so that it can recover and heal.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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