For some people, full recovery from COVID-19 is frustratingly elusive. Many suffer with lingering symptoms, ranging from dry cough, muscle weakness to depression, weeks or even months after the infection.
Dubbed as Long COVID, or post-COVID-19 syndrome, this is a growing concern as South Korea breathes a sigh of relief, past the omicron surge.
According to a survey conducted between March 21 and April 11 on 748 patients infected with the virus by Myongji Hospital in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, which operates a post-COVID-19 care center, more than 60 percent of the respondents, suffered from at least two or more aftereffects.
Although the precise reasons behind post-COVID conditions are unknown, it is thought that the immune system damages cells and multiple organ systems when it goes into overdrive to fight the infection, according to Professor Park Hee-yeol of Family Medicine at Myongji Hospital.
Here, The Korea Herald looks into 10 major long-term symptoms of COVID-19 and tips to cope with them drawn from a pool of local medical experts. 1. Breathing issues
When a cough lasts longer than eight weeks, you’d better see a doctor and receive medical examinations, including a lung test or nasal endoscopy, to check whether you have developed respiratory complications such as postnasal drip and cough variant asthma.
If cough is accompanied by chest pain and fever over 38.5 degrees Celsius for more than a week, it could be a sign of pneumonia.
If you have a mild cough without severe respiratory problems, however, experts advise you try to refrain from coughing hard. This can irritate your vocal cords and larynx, worsening the cough.
Drinking plenty of warm water is recommended as it could soothe your throat and remove mucus lining your airways.
Should you find it hard to drink a lot of water, try ginger or lemon tea. Both ginger and lemon have anti-inflammatory properties that can relax membranes in your airways, which could reduce coughing.
But avoid coffee, caffeinated sodas, and energy drinks, as they dehydrate your bronchial tubes.
In addition, don’t take too much salt. Excessive salt intake reduces the concentration of a neurotransmitter “catecholamine.” It contracts and expands the muscles of your bronchial tubes. The lower the concentration of catecholamine in the blood, the more the muscles contract, narrowing the airway, which will aggravate your cough. 2. Loss of taste and smell
A loss of taste and smell might kill your appetite. But it’s important not to skip meals, or else you will undergo unwanted weight reduction or malnutrition. Make sure you’re getting enough protein and calories each day.
Try eating strong-tasting foods like lemon juice or spicy pasta dishes to regain your sense of taste. Adding flavors to food with herbs or sauces with a heady scent can also help retrain your taste buds.
Use floral or fruity fragranced products like aromatic essential oils and shampoo for some time. This smell training is helpful in retraining the brain’s smell pathways to recognize different odors.
Brushing your teeth well or using an alcohol-free mouth rinse is also helpful.3. Persistent fatigue
If you feel persistent and relapsing exhaustion for more than a month despite getting enough rest, take counsel with a physician to identify whether the chronic fatigue is a long-term symptom of COVID-19 or sign of another disease.
Take scheduled, short breaks every so often and move around a bit to stimulate the oxygen flow in your body. Relaxation before getting tired allows a quick recovery.
Go out for aerobic exercises such as walking and running as well as weight training like lifting dumbbells. Pilates, yoga or other flexibility work will also help. Exercise makes you feel more energized as it delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues, which enables the body to function better.
Enough sleep with a balanced diet is also crucial in recovering from fatigue.4. Brain fog
Brain fog refers to a temporary state of diminished mental clarity. It involves memory problems, poor concentration and confusion.
Cardiovascular exercise on a regular basis, which increases your blood flow and creates new neurons in the brain, is a must for people suffering from the mental fatigue.
Spend less time on the computer and your phone. This will worsen your cloudy-headed feeling. Also, avoid alcohol and smoking.
It’s recommended that you get enough sleep to help your brain work, but too much of it will make you feel foggier.5. Muscle pain
Exercise is always the best medicine, especially for muscle conditions. Both flexibility exercises like stretching and strength exercises such as climbing stairs and lifting weights can be useful.
Besides regular exercise, try complementary therapies, including massages, meditation and acupuncture.
Taking a warm bath or shower, which improves blood circulation, helps relieve muscle tension. Rest and over-the-counter pain relievers, including aspirin and acetaminophen, often help.
If your muscular aches and pains continue for months and you begin developing new symptoms like numbness in limbs, it’s probably time to see a doctor to receive relevant treatment and prescribed medicine.6. Headache
It’s nothing new, but it is important that you get good sleep, avoid stress and keep healthy eating routines to relieve a headache.
Taking painkillers for headaches is also an option but it should be limited to less than three days a week. An overdose of pain medicine can evoke more skull-pounding headaches.
If you have essential oils from herbs such as peppermint and lavender at home, apply a few drops to your temples. It’s a natural way to reduce migraine pain. 7. Hair loss
In response to hair loss, it’s necessary to reduce hormonal imbalances and inflammation on the scalp.
To do so, keeping a healthy diet is important. Try to avoid foods high in carbohydrates and alcohol as they disrupt hormone balance.
Also, smoke fewer cigarettes. Smoking can aggravate hair loss by creating substances in the body that boost inflammatory reactions.
Meanwhile, sleep is effective in preventing hair loss because it reduces the overall inflammatory response in the body.
In the case of alopecia areata or other severe hair loss symptoms, it is recommended that you consult a specialist and get prescribed medicine.8. Eye damage
If you have itchy eyes, place a cold, damp washcloth or an ice pack over your closed eyes. Cold compresses can help address itching and inflammation.
On top of that, run a humidifier in the room in which you spend the most time to prevent eyes from getting dry. Also, don’t irritate the eyes by rubbing them with your hands.
Some tend to use eye drops without doctor’s note. But this could deteriorate their eye conditions. You need to see an ophthalmologist if you’re not getting better after more than a week. 9. Gastrointestinal problems
Post-infection gastrointestinal symptoms include digestive ailments, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
If the area where the stomach hurts is near the navel or pit of the stomach, you might have developed enteritis. Take painkillers, while drinking enough water.
To ease your digestive issues, it’s essential to eat a well-cooked, balanced diet consisting of proteins, fiber and other vital minerals. Oily foods should be avoided.
Staying hydrated is another important factor. It’s recommended that you drink six to eight glasses of water a day. 10. Depression
Even short, moderate physical exercise like walking is an effective antidepressant. This can boost your mood and energy.
People tend to rely on alcohol or smoking when feeling depressed. Stay away from these bad habits. Take prescribed anxiodepressive drugs instead.
Also, there is a need for building strong relationships with people around you. Or consider visiting public counseling centers that specialize in treating COVID-19 patients, to receive mental health advice from psychological experts.
Some districts in Seoul, including Gangnam-gu and Gwangjin-gu, run counseling centers for COVID long-haulers with symptoms of depression.
Trying out mindfulness activities like meditation. Journaling is another good way to throw your gloom away.
By Choi Jae-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org