AUSTIN, Texas – Tiffany Schwalm has been experiencing hair loss for weeks. When her kids returned to school last fall, she and her husband both tested positive for COVID-19.

Both of their hair started falling out in November.

“[My husband] has shorter hair. He was kind of tussling his hair and just noticed hairs flying,” Schwalm said. “I was in the shower or brushing dry and noticing my hair brush was just filled every single time I was brushing my hair, which was obviously a little alarming.” 

Schwalm’s COVID symptoms included a “nasty fever” for four days and some fatigue. She managed both with Tylenol. She says she’s doing well now and is counting her blessings. But one consequence of having a high fever is hair loss. The same result comes from significant stress, which many Texans are experiencing during the pandemic.

Although Schwalm doesn't notice a difference in pictures, she says she's constantly losing hair. She often picks up piles on her bathroom floor.

“When you consistently see it day after day, after day, that you’re losing what felt like half of my head on a brush, that’s kind of scary,” she said. “I don’t want to be bald.”  

Schwalm consulted her hair stylist, Nicole Casadei, about the problem. Casadei said she knew she wanted to be a hair stylist at age 15.

"I've noticed hair stuff since I was a kid," she said. "I would see choppy bangs or a layer that didn't make sense. And by no means did I know how to fix it, but I thought maybe it could be better."

Casadei is now the owner of Golden Soul Salon in Austin. She said women have been telling her about hair loss since the spring of 2020.

“Hair is personal, and hair styling is personal,” she said. “Their hair is kind of their crown. It’s their front and center. It’s a security blanket in so many ways. So women having unexplained hair loss can be even more stressful, which doesn’t help the situation.”

Another stylist at the studio, Kristy Jalbert, said lots of women are confiding in her about their hair loss. She called this collective experience a "contagion within a contagion."

"It's been huge," she said. "This is definitely... I was going to say pandemic, but it is."

Women are often looking for answers. Casadei tells her clients to consult their doctor in case it's a hormone issue, but she knows that it probably has something to do with the pandemic.

"I don't think it's a coincidence," she said. "I think that it has to do with what's going on right now for sure."

For women who have noticed a difference in their hair's thickness, Casadei says cutting the ends in a blunt line can make it look fuller. Extensions are also an option. On the other hand, texturizing or layering might make it look thinner.

Schwalm has been taking prenatal vitamins to help with hair growth, even though she's not pregnant or trying to become pregnant. She's also taking zinc to keep her immune system in check. Schwalm has naturally curly hair, so she's trying to leave it that way instead of applying heat. She's only brushing the ends and avoiding her roots.

Despite these efforts, Schwalm knows that growing back her hair will probably just take time and patience.

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