The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eventually recognized this phenomenon as something called post-COVID conditions; however, most people refer to these health issues as “long-haul COVID” or “long COVID.”
Post-COVID conditions, the CDC says, are a “wide range” of new, returning, or ongoing health issues that people experience four or more weeks after initial COVID-19 infection. Even asymptomatic people can develop long COVID, the CDC says.
A vast range of symptoms fall under the umbrella of post-COVID conditions. Still, the agency says the most commonly reported long COVID symptoms include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, fatigue, brain fog, coughing, headaches, heart palpitations, muscle pain, diarrhea, sleep problems, fever, dizziness, rashes, changes in the sense of smell/taste, and menstrual changes.
Most people acknowledge that long COVID is a health issue that no one wants to deal with. Unfortunately, plenty of people do. Here are just a few of their stories about how long COVID has impacted survivors.
1. “I can’t go into a Starbucks anymore”
Delaware-based fair housing compliance officer Brandy Nauman, 36, contracted COVID-19 in January 2021. “I had some pretty severe muscle and body aches and pain along with headaches for ten days. I also lost taste and smell for about six weeks. But that was pretty much the extent of it,” she says.
Nauman says her taste and smell came back for about a month but then shifted into parosmia, a condition that causes a distorted sense of smell. “It’s gotten progressively worse over the last few months,” she says.
Nauman says she has taste and smell—it’s just not accurate. While Nauman says she’s always loved coffee, it now has a strong “really awful” metallic scent to her. “I can’t go into a Starbucks anymore. It’s nausea-inducing,” she says. “Eggs of all kinds are particularly triggering: They all smell rotten.”
Nauman also says garlic and onion flavors make her feel sick, and dairy gives her an intense aftertaste. “I’m a dairy farmer’s daughter, and I’ve been a huge dairy consumer my entire life,” she says. “Now, I have to buy oat milk and coconut ice cream.”
Nauman has tried scent training—which involves sniffing scents several times a day to stimulate your nose—with no success. She’s waiting to be seen by an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
2. “It feels like I have a weight on my chest”
Jamie Hickey, a 42-year-old human resources specialist in Philadelphia, had COVID-19 in June 2020. “I hardly had any symptoms when I was contagious— except for loss of smell and taste—which is what prompted me to get tested,” he says. “I had some chest tightness and difficulty breathing, but it wasn’t worse than a common chest cold.”
But, after his recovery, Hickey noticed he has “a lot more difficulty breathing,” especially when he tries to do physical activities. “It feels like I have a weight on my chest at all times,” he says. “It becomes worse when I work out or do any physical activity.”
Hickey now does breathing and cardiovascular exercises to try to strengthen his lungs. “You hear that the vast majority of the people who test positive and are asymptomatic, but the symptoms you experience after your initial diagnosis a lot of times are worse than your onset symptoms,” he says.
3. “I feel like trash all the time”
Meaghan McNair, a 20-year-old in Kansas, contracted COVID-19 in March 2020. “I had fevers and chills and spent my birthday in my room,” she says.
Now, McNair has a slew of health conditions, including chronic stomach irritation, weakness, numbness, pain from nerve damage in her arms and legs, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition that affects blood flow and makes her feel faint at times.
“It’s practically crippled my life,” McNair says of her symptoms. “I can’t do much of anything without the POTS acting up really badly. I can’t eat much either. It’s just really not fun.”
McNair says she struggles to even go for walks with her dog “without feeling absolutely awful afterward.” She also struggles with brain fog and can have trouble finding the right words at times.
McNair is on several medications for her symptoms. “I feel like trash all the time,” she says. “It’s very hard to manage.”
4. “Often, I cannot find the words I want to use”
Karen Nicola, a 65-year-old from Auburn, California, says she had a “somewhat mild” experience with COVID-19 in January 2021.
“My symptoms involved my digestive system with a fever and headache,” she says. “Although I could taste and smell, I was nauseous for several weeks and lost my appetite. I also experienced consistent fatigue. All this lasted for nearly three weeks.”
Since then, Nicola says she’s dealt with lingering fatigue, facial swelling, and heart palpitations that cause her anxiety and interfere with her sleep.
She also struggles with “unpredictably intermittent brain fog,” which can interfere with her vocabulary. “Often, I cannot find the words I want to use,” she says. “It feels frightening like I might be getting early dementia.”
5. “I couldn’t stand up and felt like I was going to be sick”
Sharon Carpenter, 39, a broadcast journalist in New York City, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early 2020. “At that time, people were still going about life as normal,” she says. “I figured I may have a cold coming on since it was that time of year and didn’t think it was a big deal. But upon returning to New York City, my symptoms worsened. I had a temperature, I was lethargic, and I had a horrible cough I couldn’t shake.”
Carpenter says she developed a persistent cough for four months and was “very lethargic.” She also lost her sense of taste and smell. “In June, I got an antibody test which confirmed that I had officially had it,” she says.
Now, Carpenter goes through severe bouts of vertigo. “At one point, it was so bad I couldn’t stand up and felt like I was going to be sick.”
She also struggles with brain fog that makes her forget certain words. “I would be grasping for an every day word we use all the time, and I wouldn’t be able to remember the word for the life of me,” she says.
Carpenter, who regularly appeared on the Wendy Williams Show, says she knew something was wrong when she was stumbling for words and couldn’t remember the names of celebrities during a live segment. “Wendy tried to help jog my memory, but my brain was not functioning,” she says.
Carpenter eventually went to a neurologist who recommended that she take vitamin D supplementation to help with her memory and brain function. “I’ve also been embarking on my own wellness journey and strongly focusing on my mental health,” she says. “I make an effort to go outside every day, FaceTime with my family, and travel when I can.”
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