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5 Long COVID Symptoms That’ll Help Explain the Way You’re Feeling

Researchers say long COVID symptoms can linger weeks, months or even years after you've been infected. Plus, the signs of long COVID can vary from the peak infection itself.

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By now, we’ve all heard about the sweeping range of effects COVID-19 can have. One of the many unique characteristics of this dreadful virus is, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted in mid-2022, an approximate 20% of individuals who get COVID-19 will experience “long COVID.” Long COVID “is defined as symptoms lasting three or more months after first contracting the virus, and that they didn’t have prior to their COVID-19 infection,” the CDC explains. (That larger majority of patients will experience symptoms for one or two weeks.)

But with a nasty flu season, an ever-lengthening allergy season, and plenty of other bugs that have gone around this year: What are the long COVID symptoms that can help ascertain what you have? Here are the long COVID symptoms experts say you should watch for. If you find yourself experiencing any of these signs of long COVID, consider speaking with your licensed healthcare provider about how to manage…and hopefully feel better soon.

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Inflammation

The body can experience two kinds of inflammation—acute inflammation and chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation occurs when the body is trying to fight off an immediate injury or disease, while chronic inflammation is when the body is in a state of inflammation over a period of time.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), COVID-19 can trigger certain acute inflammation symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath. If a COVID patient is still experiencing symptoms after the infection period has passed (usually weeks or months after), this could likely signal that the body is experiencing prolonged inflammation. The NIH says this could affect around 2.5% of COVID patients and could lead to permanent damage to the lungs and kidneys, and potentially the brain.

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You’re experiencing “COVID brain fog

According to the Yale School of Medicine, long COVID symptoms may include “a lack of mental clarity, poor focus and concentration, memory problems, difficulty with multi-tasking, and more.” The NIH says these symptoms can be the result of inflammation in the brain.

While there’s not yet a cure for brain fog from long COVID, 2023 research published in Neuroimmunology Reports found that a combination treatment of Guanfacine and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) relieved brain fog symptoms among a group of participants. Guanfacine is a drug typically used for patients with ADHD and other conditions by strengthening the prefrontal cortex connections in the brain and protecting it against inflammation and stress. NAC is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, also commonly used to treat this region of the brain.

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Your eyesight is poor

A 2021 study published in the Journal of Ophthalmic and Vision Research concluded that one in 10 COVID-19 patients have shown at least one eyesight problem after they’ve tested positive, such as dryness, redness, blurred vision, or sensitivity to light.

However, some neuroscience specialists believe that the damage to eye health from COVID could be even more widespread than what’s currently reported. While COVID-19 can cause particular issues as a patient is fighting the disease—like irritation, eye soreness, blurry vision or loss of vision, red eyes, floaters, infections, and more—doctors believe that neurological damage (particularly damage to the nervous system) can cause long-term vision damage. If you find your eyesight is poor after you’ve been infected with COVID-19, meet with an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.

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You’re experiencing chest chain or palpitations

Unfortunately, lingering heart problems have also been reported for victims of long COVID. According to experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine, COVID-19 “long haulers” could experience dizziness, shortness of breath, and chest pain and palpitations—all possibly connected to problems relating to the heart.

Doctors confirm that this can be a result of several factors, including lack of oxygen due to inflammation in the lungs, inflammation of the heart’s muscle tissues directly, and stress cardiomyopathy—a heart muscle disorder that can disrupt the heart muscle’s ability to effectively pump blood.

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You’re having trouble breathing

In a collaborative study between the Winchester Center for Lung Disease, the Yale Pulmonary Vascular Disease Program (PVDP), and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, researchers found that some patients who have recovered from COVID-19 were still left with a marked reduction in their peak oxygen consumption.

Although the heart and the lungs were functioning properly, their ability to take in oxygen at the same levels as before they caught the virus had been impaired. Some of these long COVID symptoms tend to persist for patients (even if their case of COVID-19 was mild) for almost a year after diagnosis.

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Is long COVID permanent? Experts aren’t sure.

According to the CDC, people with long COVID conditions may experience symptoms for weeks, months, or even years after being infected. In some cases, symptoms of long COVID can even go away and come back again.

While long COVID symptoms can across across a variety of groups and individuals, in 2022 the CDC cited data that suggested the following groups had been showing greatest incidence of long COVID:

  • people in their fifties
  • women
  • LGBTQ+ individuals
  • Hispanic, Caucasian, and African-American people
  • people who experienced severe COVID-19 illness and are potentially hospitalized
  • people with underlying health conditions already
  • people who develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) during or after illness
  • people who did not get a COVID-19 vaccine
  • States with the highest rates of long COVID were Kentucky, Alabama and South Dakota.

Research is still being done on the effects and solutions for long COVID. There are no current remedies to solve the problem, and most experts aren’t sure whether these symptoms could end up being permanent.

Doctors have stated that people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine are less likely to develop long COVID—which, they say, is currently the best solution to prevent long COVID symptoms.

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a journalist and content strategist with a main focus on nutrition, health, and wellness coverage. She holds an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a Nutrition Science certificate from Stanford Medicine. Her work has been featured in publications including Taste of Home, Reader's Digest, Bustle, Buzzfeed, INSIDER, MSN, Eat This, Not That!, and more.