Many people still suffer the long-term health effects of COVID-19, also known as "long COVID." Here are the foremost things COVID-19 long haulers need to keep in mind, as well as recovery tips straight from our doctors.
Take Note of Your Symptoms
Long COVID — also known as post-acute COVID-19 syndrome — is a phenomenon where patients experience lingering symptoms for months after experiencing the illness. These range from respiratory symptoms to neurologic symptoms and include the following:
- Brain fog
- Loss of smell or taste
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Vertigo or dizziness on standing
- Joint or muscle pain
- Exacerbated symptoms following physical or mental activities
- Depression or anxiety
Some COVID-19 long haulers are even known to experience no significant symptoms while infected by the virus and only develop symptoms after recovery. The symptoms can also affect several organ systems, the most concerning being the lungs, heart, and brain.
"Patients who had COVID are at increased risk to develop pulmonary fibrosis, heart failure, renal failure, or blood clots and pulmonary embolism in the future."
-Dr. Fidaa Shaib, Medical Director at Baylor St Luke’s Center for Sleep Medicine
Given the seriousness of these aftereffects, it's essential to take note of your symptoms and immediately reach out to your doctor for advice and treatment. Dr. Shaib recommends the Baylor College of Medicine Post-COVID Care Clinic for long haulers:
"Patients experiencing long-term symptoms of COVID-19 need a dedicated, multidisciplinary approach to their care that will help them on the path to recovery. This clinic will provide care that is comprehensive but personalized by focusing on each patient experience and condition to facilitate meaningful recovery.”
Some Long COVID Symptoms Can Last for Months
While some symptoms usually clear up within two to four weeks, others can take months to be resolved, according to Dr. M. Rizwan Sohail, medical director of faculty group practice at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center:
"For example, fevers, chills, and taste/smell-associated symptoms typically resolve within two to four weeks, while fatigue, dyspnea [shortness of breath], chest tightness, cognitive deficits, and psychological effects may last for months."
While the discrepancies between symptom recoveries remain unresolved, experts continually recommend that everyone gets vaccinated — even those who have already been infected. Dr. Sohail has a theory on how vaccines can be of help, especially to long haulers:
""For example, fevers, chills, and taste/smell-associated symptoms typically resolve within two to four weeks, while fatigue, dyspnea [shortness of breath], chest tightness, cognitive deficits, and psychological effects may last for months."
The Vaccine Won't Make Symptoms Worse for COVID-19 Long Haulers
While people report feeling symptoms after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, they don't make long COVID symptoms worse. On the contrary, many long haulers report improved symptoms after receiving the vaccine, with a pre-print study from the U.K. offering additional evidence that getting vaccinated may help long COVID sufferers. This is why it's crucial to get vaccinated — it can help prevent infection and relieve long COVID symptoms. Dr. James T. McDeavitt, chief clinical integration officer of St. Luke's Health and SVP and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine, further emphasizes its importance:
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to avoid long-COVID symptoms is to not contract COVID-19 in the first place. Get vaccinated. Use common sense when out in public (especially in crowded indoor environments). If you need help, seek help."
Smell Therapy Can Help Long Haulers Regain Their Sense of Smell/Taste
The loss of the sense of smell and taste are among the most well-known symptoms of both COVID-19 and long COVID. Besides missing out on the pleasure of experiencing food and drink, these symptoms can also present safety problems, such as not being able to smell smoke from a fire.
"Make sure smoke detectors are functioning because you won't be able to rely on your sense of smell. Check expiration dates on food. There's a huge quality of life impact that's very real."
-Dr. Suntosh Sivam, Otolaryngological Specialist at Baylor St. Luke’s
Dr. Sivam also recommends smell therapy, where patients are encouraged to smell essential oils like lemon, rose, eucalyptus, and cloves while thinking of good memories.
"A lot of us have heard how powerful smell can be in triggering memories and things like that. So we are taking advantage of those ties."
Here's how you can try smell therapy yourself at home:
Step 1: Pick a quiet spot.
Step 2: Add a few drops of your choice scent onto a cotton ball, then place it into a jar.
Step 3: Take a whiff of the inside of the jar.
Step 4: Think of happy memories you can associate with the smell.
Step 5: Repeat the process for each scent for 15-20 seconds twice a day for four to six months or until your sense of smell fully returns.
The best course of action to take against both COVID-19 and long COVID is to get vaccinated. Learn about where you can get a COVID-19 vaccine at the St. Luke's Health COVID-19 Vaccine Information Hub.
CDC | Post-COVID Conditions
NY Times | Some Long COVID-19 Patients Feel Better After Vaccine Doses
medRxiv | Are vaccines safe in patients with long COVID? A prospective observational study
ABC 13 | Texas Family Without Sense of Smell Escapes House Fire
ABC 13 | 'Smell Therapy' Helps COVID-19 Patients Regain Their Sense of Smell and Taste
Baylor College of Medicine | Relearning To Smell After COVID-19
Yahoo | How COVID vaccines are helping 'long-haulers'