Published on July 15, 2022

The long-term effects of COVID-19

If you do a simple Google search for COVID symptoms, you get a long list. And if you search for long-term COVID symptoms, you may find another long list. From loss of taste and smell to brain fog and lung issues, the lasting symptoms vary widely and unfortunately, there is no firm answer on when or if the symptoms will go away.

Lawrence resident Caroline Trowbridge noticed her first COVID symptom in January 2021. After cooking virtually with her niece, her meal didn’t taste right. Then she realized she wasn’t actually tasting the Brussels sprout pizza she’d made. She’d been exposed five days before, but had had two negative tests.

“I remember thinking: oh, this could be a symptom of COVID. My only symptoms were a light headache and loss of taste. Not smell. Only taste. It seems my case is an odd one because I only had a couple of light symptoms, but it has been over a year and a half now, and I still have no taste,” she said. “Unfortunately, at that time, vaccines were not available to me yet so I wasn’t vaccinated. Now I am fully vaccinated and boosted and will continue to get boosters to protect myself from contracting it again.”

Trowbridge, a retired journalist, said she sometimes thinks she may be tasting a food or drink, but when she holds her nose, she realizes that’s not the case. 

Caroline Trowbridge

Caroline Trowbridge

“I enjoy eating very aromatic foods because that sometimes makes it seem that I am tasting them. I’ve gotten fairly creative, trying to adapt by adding spices to my meals, but I cannot taste sweets. And some foods, such as steak and mashed potatoes, taste faint and different, even though I can smell them,” she said.

Though Trowbridge considers herself lucky to have contracted such a seemingly mild case of COVID, loss of taste is no small symptom. Chad Johanning, MD, a doctor with Lawrence Family Practice, said he has seen an array of post-COVID symptoms in his clinic.

“Fortunately with vaccination, we have seen less of lost taste and smell and more non-specific fatigue, shortness of breath, cough and chest pain,” he said. “We don’t know tons but what we do know is if patients who have more severe cases of COVID often have longer-lasting symptoms afterward. The frustrating part as a doctor is not being able to give my patients a specific timeframe when their symptoms will go away. I can give them a general range but some may not ever fully go away.”

Dr. Johanning said a good course of action after having COVID is to visit your primary care provider for an evaluation and check-up. Sometimes there may be a useful treatment or your symptoms may be related to another underlying health condition. Regardless, it may give you more peace of mind than what Dr. Google has to say.

“Researching your symptoms and learning from Dr. Google is not necessarily a bad thing, however, it can lead to more anxiety and not always the root cause of the issue,” he said. “It is important not to blame all your symptoms on COVID so we advise you to come and see your doctor, especially if symptoms haven’t begun to resolve 3-4 weeks post-COVID.”

The sooner you call your doctor about your COVID diagnosis and symptoms the better. Some treatments have been proven effective at helping reduce the effects of COVID-19.

“Paxlovid is a medicine that is a great treatment for mild to moderate COVID. It is an oral medication taken over five days and can aid in stopping the infection,” Dr. Johanning said. “Its use is similar to Tamiflu that we use for Influenza but much better and much more effective against COVID.”

Krishna Rangarajan, MD, a pulmonologist with Lawrence Pulmonary Specialists, said he has seen many different post-COVID symptoms, but the most have been intense brain fog and lasting lung issues.

“I have had a few patients who became hospitalized with severe COVID pneumonia and still require oxygen,” he said. “Most had no known lung disease before and were not on oxygen. For some, these issues are still present themselves even close to a year later. These are individuals in the prime of their lives that have developed these long-lasting COVID symptoms.”

Dr. Rangarajan agreed with Dr. Johanning that it is important to check in with your healthcare team, as sometimes these symptoms may occur from something unrelated to COVID.

“Most people I see have recovered significantly, however, there are some that still battle the effects of COVID daily,” he said. “There may not be anything at this moment that can relieve and take away the lasting symptoms, but we can do our best to advise and walk with you to manage your symptoms.”

Dr. Rangarajan recommends some level of activity for his patients at whatever level you can. Moving your body in any way is important even if it is just standing, taking short walks or pool exercises. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can also support managing symptoms and keeping you as healthy as possible.

“As I mentioned, most have recovered, but those who haven’t got hit hard. Getting your vaccine and staying up-to-date on your boosters are incredibly important tools to help you avoid severe complications with COVID-19,” he said. “It is never too late to get your vaccine or to start making small changes to help you live a healthier life each day.”

A treatment for COVID-19?

Have you heard about Paxlovid? Yale Medicine online describes it as an oral, antiviral pill that can be taken at home to help keep high-risk patients from getting so sick that they need to be hospitalized. If you test positive for COVID, this drug aids in lowering your risk of hospitalization or severe effects.

“It is important to contact your primary care provider within the first 5 days of your symptoms with positive COVID test. This is when it is most effective,” Dr. Johanning said. “If you’re high risk for COVID complications, you should contact your primary care doctor to determine if Paxlovid is right for you. It is a safe and effective treatment than can help reduce the long-term effects and save your life”

To learn more, visit our website at www.lmh.org or call your primary care provider.

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Jessica BrewerStory by Jessica Thomas

Jessica is the Social Media & Digital Communications Specialist at LMH Health.


The long-term effects of COVID-19

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