Most people who develop COVID-19 recover completely within 2 to 3 weeks. However, approximately 10% of patients who’ve been infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) remain unwell beyond 3 weeks; some are still sick months after infection. Continued health problems after COVID-19 have been called “long-haul COVID,” “post-acute COVID,” “chronic COVID,” and “long COVID-19 syndrome.”
Like COVID-19, long-haul COVID can affect nearly every part of the body, and symptoms can vary greatly from one individual to the next. A citizen-led survey led to a definition of long COVID syndrome as a collection of symptoms lasting more than 28 days.
According to University of California Davis Health, the most common symptoms of long-term COVID include:
Other long-haul COVID symptoms include:
Long-term effects of COVID-19 can also include:
At present, treatment is focused on symptom relief. Scientists and doctors are still looking for effective treatments for long-term COVID.
Olfactory training, or smell training, may help patients regain their sense of taste and smell; the process involves sniffing familiar scents (often, rose eucalyptus, lemon, and clove essential oils) twice a day while remembering what that scent smells like. Olfactory training helps build connections in the brain and should continue for at least six months. Patients with persistent alterations in taste and smell should see an otolaryngologist—ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT)—as soon as possible. An ENT can provide instruction and support for olfactory training and may prescribe medicine that may hasten sensory recovery.
If your shortness of breath or cough wakes you up at night, your symptoms might be due to inflammation of the vagus nerve. Physicians can treat that problem with respiratory retraining (special breathing exercises). Eating a low-acid diet—one that limits or eliminates acidic foods, including soda, citrus, wine and tomatoes—may also help.
Patients with heart damage should work with cardiologists. Patients who develop diabetes may need oral medicine or insulin treatment. In a few cases, patients who experienced significant lung damage after COVID-19 recovery were treated with lung transplant.
Researchers are testing a variety of drugs to see if they can effectively treat long COVID.
If you or a loved one has long-haul COVID symptoms, consult your healthcare provider for help managing your symptoms.