For some people who get it, COVID-19 never goes away. They're called long haulers—people who contracted COVID and, months later, are experiencing symptoms ranging from annoying to terrifying to debilitating.
One study recently found that one-third of people who weren't sick enough with COVID to be hospitalized may still have long-term symptoms. And an Italian study found that nearly 90% of people who recovered from COVID-19 reported at least one persistent symptom two months later.
Many long haulers don't fit the profile of those who are most likely to be made critically ill by COVID. "The people we're seeing as long haulers are people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. These are people who were never sick before with no pre-existing conditions," said Dr. Noah Greenspan, a New York City cardiopulmonary physical therapist.
Here is what several long haulers across the country have said are their scariest symptoms. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Symptoms That Come And Go—And Keep Coming Back
"There's a reason long-term Covid is called the 'rona coaster,'" said travel writer Lea Lane in Forbes on Sept. 30. She reports still suffering from nearly a dozen symptoms seven months after she contracted COVID. "We also refer to it as the beast, the devil and the demon. I can be feeling okay, and ten minutes later, feel like hell. Day to day, we never know how it will go. And many of us have relapsed, many times."
Chelsea Alionar, a 37-year-old in Portland, recently told Fox 12 Oregon she's had more than 80 doctors' appointments since testing positive for COVID in April. "I certainly cannot work at full capacity," she said. "My brain fog is really debilitating."
"I survived, but I have survived with such problems," journalist Lorraine Graves told CTV News last week. Seven months after her COVID diagnosis, "My brain just doesn't work like it did. I'm sharp, I'm vivid, I'm vibrant and I'm not anymore."
Researchers believe this frequently reported brain fog—and other neurological symptoms like confusion, anxiety, depression, and personality changes—may be caused by virus-related inflammation in the brain.
Alionar said chest pain "wakes me up in the night, it plagues me throughout every day." This lingering symptom, which can seem frighteningly like a heart attack, may be caused by a condition called costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage that connects ribs to the breastbone.
Fatigue, from mild to crushing, has been reported by nearly 100% of long haulers, according to the COVID Symptom Study. "Since March, a four- to five-minute walk would send me to bed for a couple of days. I just couldn't tolerate it," Jenny Berz, a 50-year-old psychologist, told Boston 25 News on Oct. 1.
"Interspersed in a lot of cells where they're inflamed so they're not functioning properly, so the heart is not beating as well as it should," said Eliza Chakravarty of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, who is studying long haulers. "People running seven miles a day now are struggling going down the driveway, so it can really take you out from the knees."
San Francisco college student Kayla Swift, 23, told KPIX 5 News that she suffers from postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) six months after her COVID diagnosis. The condition causes your heart rate to skyrocket when you move from sitting to a standing position, and can cause lightheadedness, dizziness and confusion.
Swift also developed myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle which has caused a thickening of her heart's myocardium and dilation of the ventricles. Previously active, she now uses a wheelchair. "Some days I can handle it, and some days it doesn't seem real, and then other days it feels absolutely hopeless," she said.
After being diagnosed with COVID in April, New Yorker Diana Berrent developed headaches and blurred vision. Her ophthalmologist recently diagnosed Post-COVID Onset Glaucoma. "We are now actually seeing many, many cases of COVID onset macular degeneration and other ocular issues," said Berrent, who founded Survivor Corps to track post-COVID symptoms, on KPIX 5 News last week.
Swift says she has severe gastrointestinal problems, which have led to a 40-pound weight loss. For some people, gastrointestinal ailments like vomiting and diarrhea can be an initial sign of the illness; for others, those issues linger.
Shortness of Breath
One European study found that 43% of COVID-19 patients had shortness of breath months after their illness supposedly resolved.
A Buzzing Sensation
Lane said one of her lingering symptoms is a disconcerting buzzing sensation throughout her whole body. "I was relieved when I realized that many long-haul people also have this frightening feeling," she said. Health experts don't know what causes it.
Actress Alyssa Milano has shared on social media that she experienced ongoing hair loss months after first developing COVID symptoms. She's not alone: 27 percent of the 1,500 people surveyed by Survivor Corps reported ongoing hair loss. It's a condition called telogen effluvium, a form of hair loss that can be triggered by stress, illness or severe weight loss. Thankfully, it's temporary.
How to Stay Healthy
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.