Long COVID has caused people to fear it might have side effects such as hair loss, ED and low libido. We’ve examined the research and found that there’s some truth to it.
Over 600 million people have recovered from COVID-19 worldwide. However, the long-term consequences of this disease remain largely unknown.
The time to recovery from COVID-19 is highly variable, some recover relatively quickly (within one to two weeks) while some others have a longer time to recovery (two to three months).
The most common persistent physical symptoms of COVID-19 include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, cough, memory problems a.k.a brain fog and a loss of smell or taste.
Hair loss, erectile dysfunction (ED) and low libido are some less common physical symptoms affecting less than 10% of patients. These symptoms are lesser known and are not as fully understood as the more common ones. They are also less studied as these symptoms were not fully established to be caused by COVID-19.
Hair loss and COVID-19
Some patients recovering from COVID-19 have reported alopecia or hair loss.
The American Academy of Dermatology explains that temporary hair loss is normal after a fever or illness. While this is commonly described as hair loss, it is actually hair shedding – medically known as telogen effluvium.
Hair shedding happens when more hairs than normal enter the shedding (or telogen) phase of the hair growth cycle. A fever or illness can force more hairs into the shedding phase.
Noticeable hair shedding can occur two to three months after having a fever or illness. Handfuls of hair may come out when showering or during hair brushing. This hair shedding can last for six to nine months before coming to an end. Most people then see their hair starting to look normal again.
More alarmingly, small observational studies revealed that men with severe male pattern baldness are more likely to be hospitalised with severe COVID-19 than other men around the same age.
Although this link is understandably worrying (with 63% of Singaporean men having male-pattern baldness!), more research is required in this aspect in order to establish a causal relationship.
Erectile dysfunction and COVID-19
Preliminary evidence of the association between ED and COVID-19 revealed that men who contracted COVID-19 may be six times more likely to develop short-term or long-term ED.
Although this association is only a preliminary finding and more research is still required to establish the link, it is enough reason for us to “mask up to keep it up”.
Small case study reports have also documented post-COVID-19 issues that affect sexual health such as damage to the testes, testicular pain or swelling and even a decrease in the size of their penis or testicles.
Low libido and COVID
Low libido has been added to the already long list of COVID-19 symptoms although no direct link has been fully established.
It is hypothesized that long-term COVID-19 complications may lead to scarring of erectile tissues. It has also been found that the virus has an ability to enter cells in the testicles where majority of testosterone is being made, suggesting that COVID-19 may possibly reduce testosterone levels in the body.
Lower testosterone levels can contribute to reduced energy, libido, muscle mass and ED.
Stress as a common denominator
It is important to consider the role of the stress and anxiety that COVID-19 has brought about and how it has affected men both physically and psychologically.
Other than a fever or an illness like COVID-19, stress can also cause temporary hair shedding. Emotional stress can also force more hairs than normal into the shedding phase. And who isn’t feeling more stressed and anxious during the pandemic?
Perhaps the cause of your hair shedding could be linked to a fever, illness or stress. Hair should return to normal on its own after the cause is removed, you just have to give it time.
Most people see their hair regain its normal fullness within six to nine months.
However, if you suspect that your hair loss is caused by something more than telogen effluvium from stress or a fever, speak with your doctor to find out more.
Read our article: Singapore Hair Loss Treatment Options (Price and Effort Comparison)
In men, the erection process is a seductive play between biological and psychological factors. It has been reported that about 40% of ED cases are considered psychogenic. Psychological and mental health issues may lead to ED or worsening ED.
COVID-19 has dramatically affected men’s quality of life by changing inter-personal relationships, community life and sexual health.
Depression, stress and relationship issues are some of the common causes of psychogenic ED. Medications known as the PDE-5 inhibitors like Viagra are common treatments for ED. However, studies have shown that effective results are more commonly seen when medications are combined with psychological therapy.
Read our article: Ultimate Guide to Solving ED in Singapore (2022)
High levels of stress hormones have been found to reduce sex drive. When stress is chronic, the body uses sex hormones to meet the increased demands for higher stress hormone production – this result in low libido.
With the pandemic stretching on, poorly-managed stress can also lead to anxiety and depression and poor lifestyle choices contributes to an unhealthy sex life.