HOUSTON - As we learn more about COVID-19, doctors are finding severe symptoms can last long after someone tests negative for the virus. For instance, according to a new study many COVID-19 survivors are reporting losing their hair after battling the virus.
"My hair just started coming out in chunks. I get this in a day when I comb it out,” explains Houston hairstylist Christal Mercier as she holds us clumps of her hair that have fallen out.
For years, the Hair Dreams by Christal stylist has been making and donating wigs to women and girls who suffer hair loss. Now Christal, who had long, thick hair since childhood, has made a wig for herself.
"I just had to suck it up and I'm just so thankful to have life."
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She, her husband, and their three grandchildren have all recovered from COVID-19, but now she says underneath her wig she's lost 70% of her hair.
“It's coming out right here and breaking right here,” she takes off her wig and points to spots in her hair. "It's a little embarrassing to show my hair but I know there are people with so much more hair loss and so many more problems from this illness."
Indiana University School of Medicine Researcher Dr. Natalie Lambert just wrapped up a study of over 1,500 COVID-19 patients.
"Shockingly hair loss was almost as common as fever and chills,” explains Dr. Lambert who says it isn't clear yet why COVID-19 causes hair to fall out. “I'm not an expert in that area but what I'm hearing is sometimes it could be a very high fever that can cause it. Other times it could be a shock to a particular body system. So, it could be a shock to the skin or hair follicles,” says Dr. Lambert.
“Hair loss can be a manifestation of that kind of extra stress on your body,” adds Baylor College of Medicine Infectious Disease Dr. Prathit Kulkarni.
Dr. Kulkarni and Dr. Lambert both say the research is still ongoing. Even as studies continue, many COVID-19 survivors complain of persistent problems.
"Fatigue, shortness of breath, joint pain, chest pain. Sometimes they can have red eyes. Their taste may be different, headaches, loss of smell,” says Dr. Kulkarni.
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”When people lose their ability to smell, that's because the virus attacked a particular nerve. People may lose their ability to concentrate or have memory problems,” explains Dr. Lambert, who says her study found 98 persistent symptoms ranging from problems with the heart and organs to blurry vision and digestive issues.
“Some people have reported that they now have diabetes type problems that they didn't have prior to the illness. When thousands of people are reporting I can't sleep now, but I could prior to contracting COVID, it's stuff we need to pay attention to. So, we need more focus on the brain and nervous system,” says Dr. Lambert.
She also says some in the study have symptoms that come and go.
“The virus impacts everyone a little bit different and we don't really know why yet,” Dr. Lambert explains.
“I'm just grateful to be alive. I came close to dying. I couldn't even do this before,” says Christal as she takes a deep breath in, but she says she still has trouble walking distances and climbing stairs.
She now has a Zoom support group for women suffering hair loss.
Dr. Lambert says many of the long-term symptoms seem to be related to the brain and nervous system and she says much more research is required.