Coronavirus

Long COVID: 'I got coronavirus, then I started losing my hair'

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Amie was one of the first Australians to be diagnosed with COVID-19. Almost a year later, she’s still managing the unexpected symptom of hair loss.

Video above: Insight takes a look at what it’s like to lose your hair, how it affects your identity, and what can be done about it. Watch at 8:30pm, Tuesday May 4 on SBS or On Demand.

Coronavirus wasn’t on Amie Morris’ mind when she first got a sore throat in early March last year. Since she hadn’t travelled recently, and didn’t fit most of the criteria, it wasn’t on her doctor's mind either. So when her test came back positive, she was shocked.

“I was like: oh my God … there was so much stuff all over the news about it, and I can’t believe I’ve got it,” she said.

Amie spent three weeks isolating in her bedroom, sick and exhausted from the virus. When she finally got the all clear from her doctors and started to feel better, she thought it was all over.

Then, about three months later, her hair started to fall out.

“I must have lost at least 50 per cent of my hair,” Amie said. “It was horrible, awful.”

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Amie recovered from coronavirus but then suffered from hair loss in the months after.
Supplied

Initially no one could explain it, but over the next year, hair loss emerged as an unexpected symptom affecting many people who’d had COVID-19 months before.

Dermatologist, Professor Rodney Sinclair, said COVID-related hair loss – technically, telogen effluvium – affects about 15-20 per cent of people who’ve had the virus.

“The [hair] growth is cut short,” he explained. “So they then cycle and fall out a few months later.”

Prof. Sinclair said telogen effluvium is a temporary disruption to the hair growth cycle – the hair will grow back in time. But for now, Amie’s been left trying everything from supplements to clip in extensions and a shorter hair cut to hide her hair loss.

“I don’t want to be bald,” she said. “I can’t walk around with two strands of hair on my head. What do I do?”

The long-term effects of coronavirus are just starting to be understood. But COVID-19 aside, about half the population will face hair loss at some point, often due to hormonal factors, or the autoimmune disease alopecia areata.

Insight guests told host Kumi Taguchi about the grief they felt during their hair loss, and how they navigated the myriad treatments and ‘miracle cures’ on offer.