Illness and Hair Loss

How being ill might affect hair loss and alopecia

This week I’ve been suffering with flu symptoms. I’m obviously well enough to sit up now and type this, so I think I’ve had the worst of it, but during the last few days I’ve been literally flat on my back in bed. I’ve been shivering and dizzy with a high temperature and vomiting. I’ve now got a bad cold and a hacking cough, accompanied by a vicious sore throat. As I’ve been lying in my sick bed, I’ve been wondering whether a bout of illness like this is likely to cause more hair loss for a sufferer of frontal fibrosing alopecia.

Although I’ve been inspecting my pillow for strands of hair, I think that illness is unlikely to cause any immediate, out of the ordinary hair loss. Longer term, I know that illness, stress or any other trauma to the body can trigger hair loss, including (and possibly especially) for FFA sufferers. My first bout of hair loss was triggered by extreme stress over a few months. My hair fell out over a period of two or three weeks from my hairline, across my forehead and above my ears, leaving me with a sparse covering in this area. Hair loss which occurs after stress or illness (or pregnancy, for that matter) is called telogen effluvium, a non-scarring alopecia. According to my GP, this is what happened to me, although the dermatologist told me that I’d more likely got a scarring alopecia, and that because the hair loss was from the front and sides, this was a clear sign it would be FFA. Yes, I’m still very confused about that!

A low level of illness, such as the virus I’ve currently got, is not likely to see my hair fall out dramatically over the next few days. What it might do is contribute to weakening the hair follicles, which could lead to a bit of shedding in a few weeks or so, I suppose – and if it does, I’ll report back. But I actually think being ill has been quite good for my hair. I  washed it for the first time this morning since getting ill, so for six days I left it, giving the natural oils a good chance to coat the hair shaft. And it feels to be in pretty good condition. This time of year doesn’t do hair any favours, as confirmed by my hairdresser the other week. Bad weather and central heating all take their toll on the healthy look and feel of hair. Not washing it quite as frequently definitely seems to help, but better not to have to leave it unwashed because you are ill. I wouldn’t wish this virus on anyone!

Hope everyone’s staying well and warm. Roll on the spring!

Rachel x

 

 

5 thoughts on “Illness and Hair Loss”

  1. Thank you so much for your blog. I was recently told that I might have FFA. I’m still waiting for an appointment with a specialist to confirm the diagnosis. I have been trying to read on this condition, but there really isn’t much out there. I saw an article about possible correlation between foundation and sunscreen use which I’m going to stop using in hopes it will help with the inflammation. I was wondering if you might have any experience or comment on hair coloring…whether it had any effect good or bad.

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    1. Yes I’ve heard about the possible link with sunscreen. I’ve never really worn much sunscreen (or foundation) on my face so I’m not convinced there is a link. In fact, I’ve started wearing an SPF 50 sunscreen every day only in the last few weeks, so we’ll see. Likewise, compared with a lot of women, I’ve not coloured my hair that regularly – maybe twice a year over the last few years only (I’m 52). Now that my grey hair is very noticeable, I debated whether colouring it would trigger more hair loss. As my hair loss seemed not to have worsened in about 9 months, I decided to try a hair colour. I had a semi-permanent at the hairdressers – that didn’t touch my scalp when it was applied and was only applied in strands to blend in the grey at the top with the rest of my hair (a bit like highlights). I didn’t have any bad reaction from that at all and I’m just about to book another appointment to have the colour applied again. I’m convinced that mine was triggered by stress and I’m hoping (fingers crossed) that I’ve lost as much as I’m going to. A lot of it has also grown back, which isn’t typical of FFA (which I was diagnosed with) and I’m sure this is due to all the things I did, such as Indian Head Massage.

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  2. Hi Rachel

    Hoping that you still monitor this blog. In researching to figure out what’s going on with me, I found your story. It’s incredibly similar! Age, major stress, nature of the hair loss…it prompted me to look at my arms and WOW that hair is gone too. And my knuckles. My hair loss appears to have stopped and looks like it might be starting to grow back on my head but my eyebrows are stuck. If I follow correctly, after about a year from when you first noticed the fall you mention that most of your hair came back in. Did this include your eyebrows? I had nanobrows done because I couldn’t stand it anymore, but I’m still hopeful that they’ll come back. Sadly my doctor dismissed all of my concerns and said that I have lots of hair and was pulling out my brows. There was an element of pulling based on the prolonged, high stress (I woke up doing it a couple of times), but it’s not the whole story and I certainly don’t pull them now.

    Anyway, I’m hoping you can provide me with some optimism.

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    1. Hi Darlene

      Thanks for your comment. Interesting to hear we have a similar story. I lost the hair on my body (mainly arms and legs) at the time I lost some of the hair on my head. This has now grown back, but is finer than it used to be. Mostof the hair on my head has grown back now too (albeit finer than it used to be – it’s a bit brittle). The patches that haven’t grown back so well are above my ears – the right-hand side being worse than the left where it is very scarse. Both eyebrows have thinned a fair bit – and again my right-hand eyebrow is a lot thinner than the left on the outer half (where most of it is missing). I fill in my eyebrows with a fibre powder. My doctor did say to me at one point that the loss of my eyebrows could be down to allergy, but I’m not sure this is the case.

      So, yes, positive that hair does seem to grow back after initial hair loss. What I do is eat lots of protein, as I read that this can help strengthen the hair. I hope that has helped.

      Rachel

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  3. Thanks, Rachel!

    My older sister (by one year) has recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder (she’s got a bone marrow issue). She has a medical background and figures autoimmune might also be the case for me. I’ve had a minor bout of pityriasis rosea (a rash that primarily affects kids and young adults. It’s non-infectious and they don’t know where it comes from but has been associated with autoimmune…as has hair loss and this never ending fatigue). Last night I noticed that the hair on my fingers and toes is also gone. I’ve never had a lot of hair on my legs but that’s also thinner. The rogue chin hairs disappeared for several months too, but those lovely troopers have returned. Thankfully there’s only a couple LOL. I haven’t lost noticeably more hair above my ears, but the left side of my forehead (sort of above the temples) is more affected than the right. So bizarre.

    I’m really appreciative that you replied and am happy for you that your hair has mostly come back. When I said I’d strive to be a finer version of myself, this isn’t quite what i meant LOL. I’m seeing my new gp in a couple of weeks. I didn’t discuss the body hair loss with the last one (who had emotionally checked out of the rural practice and didn’t seem to have much concern about mental wellness) as I didn’t realize, but will raise it with the new guy. I’ll let you know if I get any additional insight. There’s a lot of non-specific information out there. Your story has been the most relateable and useful that I’ve seen. As an aside, I’m in Canada…I think you’re in the UK (NHS?). My ancestry mostly goes back that way…maybe there’s something hopping around on a gene that gets triggered when conditions are right.

    Thanks again, and all the best.

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