– Long Haulers and COVID-19
– What is a COVID-19 long hauler?
- A COVID-19 long hauler is someone that had COVID-19 and then either continues to experience symptoms or develops new symptoms that last for four weeks or longer and are not fully explained by some other medical condition.
– Who is vulnerable to becoming a long hauler?
– Anyone who gets COVID-19 is vulnerable to becoming a long hauler. It's been seen in people that were hospitalized and people that were not hospitalized, people who had life-threatening COVID pneumonia, and others who had relatively mild acute cases. It's unclear at this time what the risk factors are for developing long COVID, but based on surveys and other population-based research, roughly 10% of people who get COVID go on to have prolonged symptoms.
– What are long haulers' symptoms?
– There are many possible long hauler symptoms. Some of the most common are fatigue, shortness of breath, decreased exercise tolerance, and trouble with memory or concentration, which is commonly called brain fog. There are people whose sense of smell and taste has never returned to normal or took a long time to return to normal. Long COVID can essentially affect any part of the body. There has been issues with digestion, nausea, stomach pain, chest pain, heart palpitations, headaches, trouble sleeping, muscle and joint pains. The list unfortunately goes on.
– What is the recovery process for long haulers?
– The recovery process for long haulers is also quite variable. Some only take a few weeks or months to recover, while others have been experiencing symptoms for over one year at this point. It's important that people with long haul COVID work with medical providers that are empathetic, that validate long haul COVID is real, that acknowledge we're still learning about it, but pledge to work with you and other medical specialists on your treatment and recovery.
– What is the treatment for long haulers?
– The treatment for long haulers is different depending on what your symptoms are, but in general, it's helpful to track your symptoms with a symptom diary to try and figure out what could be contributing to them, what things seem to make them worse or better. In addition, many people benefit from doing physical therapy, occupational therapy, and cognitive therapy.
– Why is mental health care important for long haulers?
– Mental health care is very important for long haul patients. The mind-body connection is real and the psychological distress of having these prolonged symptoms that are not well understood can be significant. It's important that people understand that depression or anxiety is not the cause of their symptom, the only thing going on, but they can have very real effects on the body and make recovery more difficult. Taking the time to improve your mental health is an important part of recovery. This can mean working with a therapist and/or a psychiatrist, practicing meditation or other mindfulness strategies, and engaging in long haul COVID support groups.
– Can long haulers get the vaccine?
– Long haulers can and should get the vaccine. Vaccination is proven to reduce risk of reinfection and severe disease if you do get reinfected. While there is not clear evidence at this time that vaccination improves long hauler symptoms, there is evidence that people who are vaccinated and then get COVID-19 have a lower risk of becoming a long hauler.
– Is there any way to reduce the chance of getting long COVID?
– The way to reduce the chance of getting long COVID is to prevent getting COVID in the first place. The most important way to do this is to get vaccinated. The vaccines are safe and effective. And there is also evidence now that people that are vaccinated, but unfortunately still get a breakthrough COVID infection, have a lower risk of developing long hauler symptoms.
– How is Montefiore-Einstein's CORE Clinic helping long haulers?
– Montefiore-Einstein's COVID recovery or CORE clinic is helping long haulers by evaluating their symptoms, explaining the current understanding of what could be causing them, referring to medical specialists as appropriate, and making recommendations to the patients and their primary care doctors on the best way to try and diagnose, manage, and treat their symptoms as we all work together towards their recovery.