Nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and I’m still startled by how often I hear (or read) comments from people—friends and strangers alike—who don’t know about long haul COVID. While there is a myriad of unanswered questions about the syndrome, the one clear truth we know about it is that it does, in fact, exist.
It exists and it can affect folks young and old and those with or without previous underlying health conditions. In fact, new research from Mt. Sinai’s Center for Post-COVID Care has shown that 10-30% of all COVID patients will become long haulers. To emphasize, that’s 10-30% of all COVID patients, not 10-30% of those who are of a certain age, or those who required hospitalization. Early research suggests, even, that those who had mild symptoms and recovered at home are most likely to experience long haul symptoms.
Who Is A Long-Hauler?
A long hauler is the common name for someone who, weeks or even months after their initial COVID-19 infection, is still suffering from symptoms—even if they are and have been testing negative.
Doctors have not yet discovered any reason why some people suffer from long haul symptoms and others do not. There’s no clear demographic that has emerged as particularly at risk for long haul COVID. It’s even been identified in children. But the picture is becoming clearer.
Researchers from King’s College found evidence that the median age for those who suffer from long haul COVID was 45, and that women were twice as likely to have it as men. That’s a younger demographic than the demographic at risk of death from COVID.
What Are Typical Long Haul Symptoms?
Common long haul COVID symptoms include: fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, and joint pain.
Symptoms of acute long haul COVID are even more worrisome. In an interview with CNBC, Texas Children’s Hospital Dr. Peter Hotez noted that along with serious fatigue and shortness of breath, patients can develop Type 1 diabetes, can experience digestive issues and racing hearts, and even suffer from “brain fog”—or trouble thinking clearly. One survey found that 88% of respondents “coped with some form of cognitive dysfunction or memory loss that to varying degrees affected their everyday lives. That includes the ability to make decisions, have conversations, follow instructions, and drive.”
Are Long Haul Symptoms Permanent?
It’s unclear whether long haul symptoms are permanent. Some long haulers report dealing with symptoms lasting six months or longer. But ultimately, COVID and its after-effects are still too new to know what the long-term, permanent effects will be.
It’s enough for now to note that its affecting lives in serious ways—physically, emotionally, and even financially.
A survey-based study led by Athena Akrami, with Patient-Led Research for COVID-19 and University College London, England of 3,762 individuals—mainly white females between 30 and 60 years old, living in the United States—found that “even in those people who don’t require hospitalization for severe COVID-19—the condition’s prolonged symptoms are having a major impact on lives and livelihoods.”
The same survey found that early half of those who responded to the survey had to reduce their work hours due to their symptoms. 22% couldn’t work at all due to long haul COVID.
How Are Long Haul Symptoms Treated?
There is one piece of (somewhat) good news to share when it comes to COVID long haul symptom treatment. Early in the pandemic, long haulers were largely ignored or written off due to a lack of awareness on the part of healthcare workers.
But the awareness is now there in most cases, and more and more post-COVID clinics are appearing to treat patients.
The problem becomes, however, that like COVID, long haul COVID manifests in a wide variety of ways. For that reason, it’s unlikely that there will be, or can be, a single uniform treatment plan for all patients. Doctors often treat the specific symptoms and provide the psychological support patients need to feel supported in their illness, confirmed Dr. Rany Condos, clinical professor of pulmonary medicine and critical care at NYU Langone, in an interview with Healthline.
A Looming Public Health Crisis
Experts believe that we may be heading into another public health crisis when it comes to long haul COVID, and even young people, who believe the risk of death is non-existent to them, need to pay attention.
It’s possible that “hundreds of thousands, if not millions” of people in the U.S. will end up dealing with a variety of long term effects—including young folks.
“As awful as the deaths are, and as heartbreaking as the deaths are, that is going to be only one of many pieces of Covid-19 that will be with us. It’s also a wake-up call for young people,” says Dr. Hotez.
Long after we’ve figured out effective ways to treat COVID infections and to prevent the majority of deaths, we’ll likely still be seeing long haul COVID. It’s a syndrome that doesn’t discriminate by age and doesn’t play favorites when it comes to who suffers the most acute symptoms.
Which is all to say—listen to the public health experts. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. And continue to social distance.
Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.