Coronavirus has had surprising effects on our general health. We have blurry vision, aching eyes, and decaying teeth.
My left heel started to hurt this year. This could be due to a degenerative condition, an inevitable side effect of ageing, or just a pandemic. Even for those who have not contracted coronavirus, it has had unexpected health effects. Recent evidence has shown that the Covid era was a worldwide hair-loss event – a sign of the stress people have been experiencing. What other effects have these unimaginable times had on our bodies?
The Institute of Trichologists (UK) – a professional association that treats hair and scalp disorders – surveyed its members in the summer. 79% of them said they had treated cases of “post-Covid” hair loss in their clinics. Expert trichologist Eva Proudman is the chair of the IoT. She attributes it to the virus’s high temperatures and lack of appetite. “Both these factors reflect in hair. Hair will begin to shed excessively between four and six weeks after the virus has resolved.”
Hair shedding can also be caused by mental stress. Richard Spencer, a London-based trichologist, said that hair loss can also be caused by anxiety about the virus, not knowing how severe it might affect one, and stress from lockdowns. Proudman has seen both men and women with this condition, but it is more common in women. “Women tend to wear their hair longer than the men do, so you will see more hair coming out of the shower, brush, and general shedding,” he said.
Pandemic-induced hair fall is most likely caused by telogen effluvium. This condition “disrupts the normal growth and shedding cycles of the hair,” Proudman says. “There will be less hair in its growing phase and more in its resting and shed phases.” Spencer says that most or all hair can be recovered, regardless of whether it is due to emotional or physical stress. Proudman says that in some cases the body can recover from the disruption by itself. We may also need to assist with specific hair treatments or dietary changes.
Pandemic eyes are dry from too much screen time. This makes them scratchy, sore and blurry, and it’s hard not to blame this on some perceived malignant force in the screens, such as blue light. Ditto for the boom in childhood myopia that was shown in a Chinese study to coincide massively with increased screen use (and time indoors, without distant vistas) during lockdowns. The warning is being displayed around the globe as a warning. It triggers parental guilt and worries, but in practice it’s very difficult to heed.
Blue-light-blocking glasses, however, are unlikely to solve the problem. Screens are not believed to cause eye damage. Myopia can be caused by constant focus on something near the face. It is not the screen glare that is drying our eyes. It is our natural tendency not to blink as much or as often when we are doing screen work, or when reading books.
My family was without a dentist for nearly two years after all routine checkups were cancelled due to the Covid crisis. According to the British Dental Association, more than 35 million appointments have been lost in England since Covid. Tooth decay is the leading cause of hospitalization in children, as many children are too young for general anaesthesia.
Mick Armstrong, who is the chair of the BDA’s health and science Committee, has stepped out of retirement in order to assist with the West Yorkshire backlog. He said, “I treated one tooth the other day. It required root canal treatment. If he had seen the problem six months ago, it might have been possible to save it. But, he added, “When I saw it, it was too late.” Covid has exacerbated existing health inequalities.
However, those whose teeth aren’t completely rotten beyond repair might have accidentally ground them to smithereens. When the American Dental Association surveyed its members in February, it found that 71% of almost 2,300 dentists around the country reported seeing an increase of bruxism – teeth grinding and clenching – among their patients during the pandemic. Ttemporomandibular disorders, which more than 60% reported seeing rise in, can also result. Symptoms include jaw clicking, pain, headaches, and tightness around the temples. A similar increase in chipped and cracked teeth was seen, which could be due to tooth grinding.
Sonya Babu Narayan, associate medical director at British Heart Foundation, said that cardiologists have noticed a rise in heart disease during the pandemic. Some people have had to change their diets and exercise, which has made it harder for them to get medical attention. She says that each delay creates a snowball effect, which ultimately puts lives at stake. The pandemic has seen many more strokes and heart attacks due to missed appointments, cancellations and longer waiting lists than we might have expected.
Philip Smith, consultant gastroenterologist at Royal Liverpool Hospital and trustee of charity Guts UK has noticed an increase in IBS flareups. He says, “We have noticed an increase in disorders that can be connected to stress or anxiety, like IBS. The brain and gut interact very closely.”
He says that his entire job is to ’embarrass bodies’. “People don’t want to talk about breaking winds and diarrhoea, and there’s a lot stigma associated with the conditions I look after.” “Blockdowns have made it more difficult for people to seek help for conditions like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative Colitis, and inflammatory Bowel Disease. Their disease is flaring much more severe than it would in normal circumstances.” It might have been caught when it was milder than severe.
Smith says that although alcohol-related hospital admissions declined in the years before the pandemic, they have increased dramatically since Covid. They could also present with alcoholic liver disease and jaundice. They may experience weight loss or withdrawal symptoms like shakes, sweating, and agitation. They may also present with gastrointestinal bleeding. This is because cirrhosis of liver causes your blood vessels to swell in your gut. In fact, one third of those surveyed by Alcohol Change UK in 2020 stated that they had either stopped drinking or reduced their drinking. One in five adults, or 8.6 million adults, have been drinking more.
According to Emma Craythorne (consultant dermatologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital, London), inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea and eczema have been increasing over the stressful times. Stress equals flareups. Handwashing too often can cause skin problems. Craythorne’s Department had to create a clinic for hospital staff because doctors must wash their hands 100 times per day. “When you wash your hands, the outer layer of the skin starts to lose water as you have disrupted its bricks and mortar protection.” “Starts to cause cracks” in the skin if you don’t moisturize or use a moisturiser with added moisturiser like glycerin. Then, pathogenic bacteria could get in and cause inflammation.
Craythorne does not consider this a problem. The term “maskne”, which was jokingly used during the pandemic, refers to skin problems caused by mask-wearing. Perioral dermatitis is a condition in which the skin barrier doesn’t work as well. This causes tiny bumps around your mouth that can become itchy. People often mistake it for acne. Although wearing masks can change the environment in this area which may trigger the condition Craythorne believes that the specialist skincare acid might be more to blame.
Emma McConnachie, a spokeswoman for Royal College of Podiatry who practices in Stirling, believes my dodgy right heel could be related to the pandemic. She says, “We’ve been seeing more tendon strains as well as types of heel pain like plantar fasciitis” One possibility is that our feet are not wearing their normal supportive footwear while we work from home. She says that not all foot types can walk barefoot or in lightweight footwear. Some people report that their feet are ‘spread’ and their shoes don’t fit anymore. It could be that the shoes they have worn before may not fit correctly and that they are now more conscious of their size. After a long day of jogging, you may feel the first time you put on jeans.
According to her, podiatrists are also reporting an increase in pain in the arch and ankles as well as the achilles region at the back of each ankle. She believes that many of these injuries are due to “changes in activity type or taking up new sports such as running”. She advises that if you are experiencing pain in your feet for more than two weeks, it is best to get professional evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.
Fitness and diet
King’s College London’s Tim Spector, who developed the Zoe Covid-Symptom Study app, has provided a wealth of epidemiological data during the pandemic. His app’s survey about diet and exercise revealed that there was little change in national weight and fitness. He says that “quite many people changed their behavior” behind these averages. They got either healthier or less healthy, but they kind of balanced out,” he said. This data was published in Nature Food this year.
While the survey found that overall, weight gain averaged at just 0.8kg (1lb 12oz), an NHS study this year showed that people seeking help with weight loss were on average 2.3kg heavier than those in the previous three years.
The Zoe survey found that while less than a quarter of respondents exercised less during the pandemic, slightly more people became more active. Spector also says that about one-third of people rediscovered cooking and ate healthier. The third who did not make any changes made no changes. Spector asks, “Where will they go back to?” Spector asks, “Will they miss KFC or the quinoa?