Is hair loss a symptom of Covid-19? Doctors explain why Alyssa Milano's hair is falling out

'I basically had every Covid-19 symptom,' the American actress has said of the virus

Actress Alyssa Milano has shown the amount of hair she has lost as a result of Covid-19. Instagram / Alyssa Milano
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Actress and activist Alyssa Milano has gone public with her coronavirus battle, revealing this week that she was sick with Covid-19 in April.

In a follow-up post on social media, she told fans that four months on, she is experiencing a large amount of hair loss.

Essentially, it is temporary hair loss from excessive shedding due to a shock to the system

"I just wanted to show you the amount of hair that is coming out of my head, as a result of Covid," she says in the video, before combing her wet hair with a detangling brush.

After three strokes, she holds it to the camera to show a sizeable clump of hair. She then continues brushing for about a minute, before holding up another a large ball of hair.

"One brushing," she says. "This is my hair loss from Covid-19. Wear a damn mask."

Is hair loss a symptom or side effect of Covid-19?

The primary symptoms of Covid-19 are well-documented – a dry cough, fever, tiredness. However, there are less common symptoms, such as aches and pains, a sore throat, a rash, diarrhoea and the loss of taste or smell. So, is hair loss another less common symptom?

"Hair loss is not a symptom of Covid-19," Dr Rekha Santosh, dermatology specialist at Burjeel Hospital Abu Dhabi, tells The National.

"However, some patients experience excessive hair fall a few weeks after being infected with Covid-19. This is called telogen effluvium, which can be triggered by any severe illness and also medication used during the treatment of Covid-19. However, this hair loss is temporary and resolves itself."

This explanation is echoed by Dr Osman El-Labban, head of the department of family medicine at Al Zahra Hospital Dubai, who has seen reports of patients experiencing hair loss after suffering from the coronavirus.

"Although the list of Covid-19 symptoms from the US [Centres for Disease Control and Prevention] does not include hair loss, we are seeing an increasing number of reports denoting that patients who had Covid-19 two to three months ago are now experiencing hair loss," he tells The National.

"The phenomenon is telogen effluvium, non-scarring hair loss that is the result of an abnormal shift in follicular cycling ... more hairs are going into the resting phase, resulting in more hair falling out, particularly from the top of the scalp."

Dr El-Labban assures patients that this is not uncommon, and in fact is seen "a fair amount".

He explains that "essentially, it is temporary hair loss from excessive shedding due to a shock to the system. There are several common triggers, such as surgery, major physical or psychological trauma, any kind of infection or high fever, extreme weight loss or a change in diet. Hormonal changes, such as postpartum or menopause, can also be a cause."

Alyssa Milano's experience of the coronavirus

The actress waited until this week to reveal that she had contracted the coronavirus earlier this year, and says she had "basically every Covid-19 symptom".

On August 6, she shared a photo of herself on Instagram that was taken in April, in which she's wearing a home ventilator. The accompanying caption reads: "This was me on April 2 after being sick for two weeks. I had never been this kind of sick. Everything hurt. Loss of smell. It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't keep food in me. I lost nine pounds in two weeks. I was confused. Low-grade fever. And the headaches were horrible. I basically had every Covid-19 symptom."

She went on to say that she had concerns about the testing system in the US, as she took two Covid-19 tests in March, "and both were negative". She also took an antibody test, for which she was given a negative result.

I thought I was dying ... I don't want anyone to feel the way I felt

"After living the last four months with lingering symptoms like vertigo, stomach abnormalities, irregular periods, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, zero short-term memory and general malaise, I went and got an antibody test from a blood draw (not the finger prick) from a lab," she said, "and I am positive for Covid antibodies. I had Covid-19."

The actress said she aims to draw attention to the importance of social distancing and wearing a mask. "I just want you to be aware that our testing system is flawed and we don't know the real numbers. I also want you to know, this illness is not a hoax. I thought I was dying ... I will be donating my plasma with hopes that I might save a life. Please take care of yourselves. Please wash your hands and wear a mask and social distance. I don't want anyone to feel the way I felt."