Hair, eyes, skin infections: Is Covid affecting us in more ways? | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Hair, eyes, skin infections: Is Covid affecting us in more ways?

ByJyoti Shelar, Mumbai
Aug 15, 2021 12:00 AM IST

Patients are struggling with sudden and severe hair loss, skin infections, eye ailments and medical experts have gradually started linking these conditions to after-effects of Covid-19

In the first week of July, a 45-year-old woman walked into Tardeo’s Bhatia Hospital with a lump of hair packed into a zip-locked plastic bag. The Parel resident had recovered from Covid-19 in May but since then she was troubled by severe hair fall. “I wanted you to believe that I am not exaggerating. I am losing enormous amounts of hair every day,” she told the consultant dermatologist, Dr Saurabh Shah.

A health worker collects swab samples for Covid-19 test of passengers arriving from outstation trains at Dadar station. (HT PHOTO)
A health worker collects swab samples for Covid-19 test of passengers arriving from outstation trains at Dadar station. (HT PHOTO)

The Sars CoV-2 that causes Covid-19 is known to attack the lungs, often in a debilitating manner. Patients who have a severe form of Covid-19 take several months to recover fully, battling fatigue, aches and breathing difficulty. But the viral infection is leaving its mark in more ways than we know. Patients are struggling with sudden and severe hair loss, skin infections, eye ailments and medical experts have gradually started linking these conditions to after-effects of Covid-19.

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Often, after a major illness like typhoid, jaundice, dengue, malaria or sometimes due to crash diets and fasting, people experience severe hair loss that needs medical attention. “We call this condition chronic telogen effluvium- hair loss triggered by certain stressers,” said Shah, who treated the 45-year-old Parel resident with a cocktail of tricho-nutrients such as biotin, copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium among others. Tricho nutrients are supplements prescribed to maintain healthy hair. In addition to the supplements, the woman was also treated with Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy, which involved injecting her platelets into the scalp to accelerate the hair growth.

Of the 20 odd people with hair loss related complaints that Shah consults daily, nearly 10 to 12 have a Covid-19 history. He said that the numbers have increased during the second wave when Covid-19 affected a huge number of people.

Doctors said that men and women have been equally affected with post-Covid hair loss. Many patients are in the age group of 25 to 30, without any underlying ailments like thyroid or diabetes, suddenly losing lumps of hair. “On a positive note, those with a Covid history are responding to hair loss treatment sooner, as compared to let’s say a typhoid patient who would need treatment for several weeks altogether,’ said Shah.

It is believed that Sars CoV-2 could be damaging the hair follicles leading to the immense shedding of hair. However, doctors say that the hair fall is self-limiting in most cases as patients regain their immunity over two to three months. But one must see a dermatologist if the hair fall continues.

Hives, herpes zoster

Covid-19 affects the immune system of the patients leaving them susceptible to a range of secondary or opportunistic infections that strike when the body’s defence mechanism is functioning sub-optimally. Doctors are treating a range of skin infections such as red patches, hives (itchy, raised bumps), blisters among others. These skin conditions have been noticed in patients freshly diagnosed with Covid-19 or in the post-Covid phase. Some patients have complained of skin infections just before testing positive for the disease and most respond to anti-histamine drugs. In the West, there have also been reports of a condition called Covid toes wherein the patients’ toe or other fingers develop discolouration, swelling and blisters. Patients have difficulty in wearing shoes due to this condition.

In Mumbai, some doctors have seen increased cases of herpes zoster- a painful rash caused by the reactivation of varicella-zoster virus- in patients with Covid-19 history. “This is the virus that causes chickenpox. It remains dormant in the patient’s body and reactivates when the immunity of the person is at its lowest,” said physician Dr Hemant Gupta. “It could be that Covid is precipitating the reactivation,” he said.

Shah from Bhatia Hospital, for instance, has seen double the number of herpes zoster patients every month as compared to pre-Covid times. A majority of them have a recent Covid history, he said.

Red eyes, ocular hypertension

In some patients, Covid-19 erupted with conjunctivitis along with other symptoms suggesting that ocular manifestations due to the virus were possible. In many others, Covid-19 and its treatment impacted eyes in newer ways. For instance, a 34-year-old Thane resident who suffered from a severe bout of Covid-19 in April was hospitalised and put on multiple drugs including Remdesivir, steroids and antibiotics. Soon after discharge, the digital entrepreneur began suffering from red eyes and his left eye felt heavy. A thorough ophthalmological consultation revealed that he had developed ocular hypertension- increased pressure in the eye. “A high dose of steroids or long use of steroids could lead the raised pressure in the eye,” said Dr Ragini Parekh, head of the ophthalmology department at the state-run Sir JJ Hospital. “A lot of Covid-19 patients are put on steroids which may be leading to such problems,” she said. According to Parekh, Covid-19 patients typically suffer from asthenopia or ocular fatigue and could have symptoms like dry or watery eyes, tiredness, sensitivity to light among others.

A March 2021 paper published in the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology had cited cases of Covid-19 patients who suffered from diminution in vision, gradual blurring, the onset of diplopia (double vision), swelling of the eyelid among other things.

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