Are you experiencing hair loss after swine flu or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)? You’re not alone

By Dr Judey Pretorius, founder of Biomedical Emporium skincare

by Tia

We’re now a couple of years post-pandemic, and as we enter flu season in South Africa (also known as winter!), it’s important to take extra precautions to strengthen our immune systems and protect our health.

This winter, swine flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) are two viruses of concern, with both showing prominence among those experiencing flu-like symptoms throughout SA.

The symptoms of swine flu are very similar to the symptoms of regular flu. These may include fever, body aches, chills, fatigue, a sore throat and headaches. RSV is a little bit different. It causes infection of the respiratory tract, resulting in a high fever, wheezing of the chest, rapid or difficulty breathing and a bad cough.

While most patients who contract swine flu or RSV are expected to make a full recovery, it’s not uncommon for certain symptoms to linger in the body even after the virus has cleared up. There is a somewhat unexpected post-infection symptom that Covid-19, swine flu and RSV have in common – hair loss.

One of the most surprising concerns many people experienced after recovering from Covid-19, was hair loss. Thousands of men and women reported excessive hair loss in the months post-infection, and now we’re seeing similar reports with the rise of swine flu and RSV.

So what is it about viruses like Covid-19, RSV and swine flu that leads to hair loss, and what can be done about it?

Experiencing hair loss after recovering from a virus is not as uncommon as you may have thought. Despite being unpleasant and frustrating, in most cases it is normal and temporary. To understand why we shed a lot of hair post-illness, one needs to consider the hair growth process.

Our hair growth and loss cycle has three different phases:

Anagen (growth) is also known as the “active phase.” In this phase, cells in the lower part of a hair follicle rapidly divide to form a new hair. Once a new hair has developed, it is pushed out of the follicle. It is estimated that between 80% and 90% of our hair follicles are in anagen phase at any given time.

Catagen (resting) is a transitional stage which lasts around two weeks. During this stage, hair follicles regress and detach from the dermal papilla. The catagen stage represents the end of active hair growth. Hairs are cut off from blood supply and from the cells that produce new hair. It is estimated that around 5% of all our hairs are in the catagen phase at any given time.  

Telogen (shedding) is also known as the “resting” phase, and occurs when the hair follicles become dormant. The hair is kept in its follicle by a white bulb of keratin until it sheds. Once it sheds, the hair growth cycle starts all over again. Around 5 – 10% of all hair is in the telogen phase at any given time.

Known as telogen effluvium, excessive hair shedding after illness is due to more hairs than usual entering the telogen phase of the hair growth cycle. When a lot more hairs enter this phase at the same time, they’ll shed at the same time, resulting in excessive hair loss.

Why does this happen? With telogen effluvium, the normal hair growth cycle is shocked or stressed by a trigger, such as a high fever, illness or stress. If you’ve been ill, you may notice hair shedding around two to three months after infection. While the shedding is usually not permanent, it may last for several months and may result in sparse patches that take long to grow out.

What can be done about it? While there isn’t much one can do to prevent telogen effluvium from happening post-infection, there is plenty one can do to increase hair growth in individuals suffering from this type of hair loss.

Biomedical Emporium’s PRP Scalp Serum is a professional scalp treatment protocol for those experiencing hair thinning and hair loss, including bald patches. This treatment makes use of Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections to stimulate hair growth and protect hair follicles from premature shedding.

It is an extremely effective treatment for various causes of hair loss, including telogen effluvium, post-pregnancy hair loss as well as hair loss due to illnesses and treatments such as cancer and chemotherapy.

You can further enhance the effects of your professional treatment with Biomedical Emporium’s Scalp Serum, a home care product applied to the scalp after the hair has been washed. The serum stimulates hair follicles while hydrating the scalp and has calming and anti-inflammatory properties. Packed with nourishing ingredients, this formula provides immediate relief from itching and promotes healthy hair growth.

While healthy hair growth can be stimulated by means of professional treatments and quality home care products, it also relies on a healthy lifestyle. Be sure to incorporate plenty of fresh and whole foods in your diet, including fruit and veg, fibre and healthy oils such as those found in fish and avocados. Drink lots of water, and limit your sugar, salt, caffeine and alcohol intake. If you haven’t quit smoking yet, now is the time to do so. Exercise regularly and try to find healthy ways of alleviating and managing stress.

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