Some coronavirus patients say they're losing their hair in clumps. Doctors think it's a response to trauma.

  • A growing number of coronavirus patients, including actress Alyssa Milano, report losing their hair after recovering from infection.
  • Doctors say the likely culprit is telogen effluvium, a condition that leads hair to stop growing after a traumatic event.
  • In most cases, the condition should be temporary, but it may last longer for people with severe infections.
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More than two months after she tested positive for the coronavirus, Peggy Goroly noticed she was losing clumps of hair in the shower.

The hair loss started around the second week of June, three-plus months after her symptoms appeared.

Goroly, a 56-year-old Long Island resident, said she still doesn't feel recovered. She's been sick since March 5, with symptoms including fatigue, brain fog, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. She struggles to climb stairs or walk around the grocery store without getting winded.

The loss of her hair on top of that, she told Business Insider, was "quite traumatic."

But she knew she wasn't the only one, thanks to a Facebook support group for COVID-19 patients. On it, members often crowdsource advice about their long-lasting symptoms.

"I went on there 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."

Her 23-year-old daughter, who tested positive for the coronavirus in April, started losing hair as well.

So did actress Alyssa Milano, who wrote on Instagram that she tested positive for coronavirus antibodies last week. Milano said her symptoms — including loss of smell and difficulty breathing — began in late March, and she, too, later started experiencing hair loss. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't list hair loss as a symptom of COVID-19, but some doctors have noticed the condition among their patients. 

"It tends to be in people who have pretty severe cases that we've seen it," Dr. Nate Favini, the medical lead at Forward, a primary-care practice that's collecting data on coronavirus patients around the country, told Business Insider.

Favini said coronavirus patients may suffer from telogen effluvium, a condition that leads hair to stop growing and eventually fall out roughly three months after a traumatic event. Whereas the average healthy person loses about 100 strands of hair per day, people with telogen effluvium may lose about three times that. 

"When the body is in a really stressful situation, it basically diverts energy from growing hair to more essential things," Favini said. The stress can be either physical or mental, he added — a high fever or depression would both qualify.

The condition usually lasts for about six months, with patients losing up to half the hair on their scalp.

"For other causes of telogen effluvium, we typically tell people: 'three to six months, you'll see improvement,'" Favini said. But he noted that the typical guidance may not apply to coronavirus patients.

"With coronavirus, there's always the caveat that we don't understand this that well yet," he said.

Research suggests that women in their 40s and 50s are more likely than other groups to develop chronic telogen effluvium, but again, experts aren't sure whether that trend will hold in coronavirus cases.

"There are people who seem to be really quite ill with coronavirus for long periods of time. If that's the case, then it becomes harder to predict when you'd have hair regrowth," Favini said.

Goroly said her hair loss seems to have slowed down recently. She's adjusting to the change with a new haircut.

"Patience is the most important thing," Favini said. "Patience and giving your body the right care so that it can recover and heal."

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published July 30, 2020.

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