Everyone is feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but some are feeling it more than others. In a new study, researchers at the University of Washington tracked 177 people who'd tested positive for coronavirus for three to nine months—the longest follow-up period yet. What they found: 30% of them had symptoms that hadn't gone away. The phenomenon is called "long COVID," and sufferers are reporting a range of physical issues that have doctors puzzled. Here's what the researchers say are the five most common. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
You May Feel Fatigue
The #1 lingering symptom the patients reported was fatigue. Several other surveys of "long COVID" patients have also placed this at the top of the list. Experts aren't sure why it happens, but the current theory is that it's caused by inflammation produced by the immune system to fight off the virus; most people's immune systems return to normal, but some don't. The result: Fatigue that won't go away.
You May Feel a Loss of Sense of Smell or Taste
The second most reported symptom, a loss of smell or taste continues to bedevil many coronavirus sufferers. Neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School say the likely cause is the virus attacking the support cells which help the olfactory (smell) system do its job. The good news: They say the loss is unlikely to be permanent.
You May Feel a Headache
Some coronavirus sufferers report neurological problems such as dizziness or headache. A headache can be your first sign of the illness—researchers with the UK's COVID Symptom Study called headache a "dark horse" among early coronavirus symptoms—and, as this study suggests, last for months.
You May Feel Trouble Breathing
COVID-19 causes inflammation throughout the body. In the lungs, that can result in long-lasting shortness of breath. Cases of COVID pneumonia can damage the lungs' air sacs, compounding the problem.
You May Feel Muscle or Body Aches
Another site of that inflammation is the muscles. They can become inflamed during any illness, causing an achy feeling. In the case of COVID-19, that can last for months. Another study, the COVID Symptom Survey, found that two-thirds of patients reported long-term muscle pain or soreness.
How to Survive This Pandemic
If you experience any of the symptoms you've just read about, contact a medical professional. 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.