Most people who have COVID-19 tend to recover from this illness within a few weeks. But some people experience post-COVID conditions, also called long COVID, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID, or chronic COVID. These are new or recurring health conditions that a person may have four or more weeks after being infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).
The American Medical Association’s website states that anywhere from 15% to 80% of people might have long COVID after recovering from the infection. Women tend to be affected more so than men.
Symptoms of long COVID
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Older people and people with many serious medical conditions are the most likely to experience lingering COVID-19 symptoms.” But younger, healthy people can also suffer with long COVID symptoms, even if their illness was mild or they did not have symptoms of COVID-19.
Common symptoms of long COVID, says the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Post-exertional malaise, or symptoms that worsen after physical or mental activities
- “Brain fog,” or difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Chest or stomach pain
- Heart palpitations
- Joint or muscle pain
- Pins and needles feeling
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Change in smell or taste
- Changes in menstrual cycles
People who have had severe COVID-19 symptoms may have damage to the heart, brain, skin, and kidneys. They might have health complications that cause long-term breathing problems, heart or kidney complications, stroke, Guillain-Barre syndrome (temporary paralysis), or severe inflammation of the organs and tissues. New diabetes diagnoses are more likely to occur post-COVID in people younger than 18 years of age, based on the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from January 7, 2022.
Being hospitalized for COVID-19 for an extended period of time can lead to problems related to being in the hospital: muscle weakness, brain dysfunction, and mental health effects.
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Managing long COVID symptoms
There isn’t a lot of research yet on how to treat and manage long COVID, although many medical centers across the country are now dealing with treating long COVID patients. If you have symptoms of long COVID, don’t hesitate to talk with your healthcare provider and seek medical attention. In the meantime, here are ways to help you cope with some of the more common symptoms:
It’s normal to feel exhausted after being sick for a period of time. You may feel like you have to sleep all the time, that you’re unsteady on your feet, and/or that you have a hard time concentrating or remembering things.
- Give yourself time to rest to help your body recover. Limit television, use of phones, and social media.
- If you have a hard time resting, try deep breathing, using a relaxation or meditation app, or even a weighted blanket.
- Keep a routine as much as possible. Go to bed at a regular time each night, sleep in a darkened room, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and stay off of your phone, tablet, or computer a couple of hours before it’s time to sleep.
- Do some physical activity every day to help boost your energy level. This will also help with your circulation and your blood sugar management.
- Be sure to get enough protein in your diet to help with recovery. Poultry, lean meat, seafood, tofu, cheese, eggs, milk, yogurt, nut butters, and beans are all excellent sources of protein.
Loss of taste and smell
Why some people lose their sense of smell and taste from COVID-19 isn’t exactly clear, but it may be due to damage from the virus to the cells that support the olfactory neurons. The loss of smell and taste may also occur as a result of increased blood levels of interleukin-6, a molecule that is produced when there is inflammation. Recovery of smell and taste can last a while; some people still don’t have these senses a year later.
- Season your foods with garlic, onion, mustard, horseradish, or spices to enhance flavor.
- Experiment with eating cold foods, as well as foods served warm. Yogurt, egg salads, or smoothies may be more appealing.
- Tangy or tart-flavored foods, such as lemon or lime, can help balance out flavors.
- Reach out to a dietitian for other ways to make food more appealing; a dietitian can also recommend liquid meal replacements that provide nutrition if you’re struggling to eat solid foods, or if you have nausea or vomiting.
- Keep your mouth clean by brushing your teeth regularly and using a mouthwash geared for dry mouth if you find that your mouth is dry or uncomfortable.
For help with regaining your sense of smell, consider trying smell retraining therapy (SRT). This involves smelling four different essential oils for 10 to 20 seconds at least once or twice a day for at least 12 weeks. Learn more about SRT here.
Let your doctor know about any other symptoms that you’re having, such as cough, headache, and pain. They may advise certain medications to help alleviate your symptoms and/or recommend a visit with a specialist to focus on lifestyle approaches for symptom control.
Dealing with long COVID can take an emotional toll. The Long-COVID Alliance is a network of patient advocates, scientists, and other experts to better understand post-viral illness. If you need support, or are looking for resources you can email them here.
Another resource is Survivor Corps. This is another patient advocacy and science collaboration site that provides education and funding for ongoing research.
Finally, if you are interested in possibly being part of a clinical trial to help researchers find successful treatments for COVID-19, visit Combat Covid.
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read our latest COVID-19 updates.