Medical doctors explain long-term symptoms of COVID-19

“It can go on for years."
Posted: 4:00 PM, Feb 23, 2022
Updated: 2022-02-26 17:06:24-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Although so many people have recovered from COVID-19, it’s important to know that just means that person didn’t die from it. While some have gotten back to normal, others are having to live with long-lasting changes to their health.

Two years into this pandemic and some patients haven’t fully recovered. This isn’t talking about having symptoms days after you tested positive, this is when you’re still having symptoms past four weeks from when you initially contracted the virus.

“It can go on for years, some people have it now since the first wave and they still have some symptoms of it,” said Dr. Hemmal Kothary, Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Hospital Bakersfield.

That's the reality some people are facing after getting COVID-19. Dr. Kothary explains some symptoms are more common than others when it comes to long-term impacts.

“Fatigue is a very common one, and a lot of people talk memory issues, they talk about this brain fog and recall, especially for short-term memory. Those are the two most common we have seen.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Parthiban Muninathan with Omni Family Health said he has seen those symptoms, plus shortness of breath and loss of taste and smell in his patients. He notes that long term effects are common in viruses.

“The Epstein Barr Virus, which is mononucleosis, sometimes that can linger with symptoms like fatigue, and that can linger for a very long time for some patients, so this is not unlike other viruses.”

He adds that this is why it is best to try to protect yourself from getting it in the first place or getting vaccinated to have a milder case of COVID.

“Patients who had severe COVID or were hospitalized have higher chances of getting long COVID symptoms compared to patients who had mild symptoms.”

Although Dr. Munnainathan has seen severe cases of COVID tied to long symptoms, according to the CDC, one in three people who get COVID and were not admitted to the hospital do not fully recover by three months.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kothary said they have noticed trends among different variants, like delta causing more of the smell and taste issues than previous variants.

“We definitely saw a lot with the alpha and a lot with the delta but a lot less with omicron,” said Dr. Kothary.

He said that because omicron was a lot more transmissible, it was much weaker in terms of symptoms.

“That is always a good sign you know, as the virus weakens, the symptoms get better, and so they are not as harsh. I think if there is a next one, there is a submicron, we should see less with that.”

Both said the million-dollar question is why some patients get it and others don’t.

They added that this is affecting people of all ages and health conditions but those are answers that will come with time.

Brain Fog

One symptom that some doctors are finding more concerning is ‘brain fog’, which has become a common for those suffering from long-term impacts.

Medical experts say brain fog is when people who get COVID start having short-term memory loss, concentration issues, and other cognitive symptoms. And it’s an issue that is more and more common.

Dr. Allison Reis with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s Medical, Scientific, and Memory Screening Advisory Board said they are getting a consistent story of people all over the world feeling like their thoughts are fleeing.

“The one thing that we see is that this is a widespread problem, the memory issues, the confusion, the brain fog.”

There is no data to say as to who is more affected or at risk and it’s happening everywhere, including in Bakersfield. “What we have seen is a lot of short-term memory issues, we don’t know why that is occurring, but it is.”

That is the main question: how is COVID, which is known to affect the respiratory tract like our lungs, also impacting our brains?

At the moment there seem to be more questions than answers, but medical doctors are exploring several theories.

“Is it an inflammatory effect, you know all that inflammation in the brain, is COVID actually getting into the nerve cells or supporting cells in the brain, is it affecting the blood vessels to the brain?”

She adds there may also be a connection with the loss of taste and smell to how it impacts the memory but notes any long-haul symptoms will require a long time to get answers.

Dr. Hemmal Kothary said the unknown makes it hard to treat, but they are trying to help mitigate this among patients.

“I’ve told people to use anti-inflammatory, turmeric is a very good one, you [can] buy over the counter, very safe. Then the B-vitamins are my go-to for a lot of these things. Now there is hard data, not for these things, but it can’t hurt to try it.”

Although there are a lot of unanswered questions, Dr. Reiss said there is a takeaway from bringing awareness to the fact that it is linked to COVID.

“Letting people know they are not alone, I think that anxiety and stress make it worse, feeling like ‘why me’, and ‘it is just me’ and ‘is it real, is it not real’. These are terrible things to put down on a person. So, making it clear that, yes this is something that is coming from COVID and yes, it is real, and we need to work on it.”

If you feel like you may have this symptom, it is best to see your doctor.

23ABC In-Depth

Types of Post-COVID Conditions

New or Ongoing Symptoms

Some people experience a range of new or ongoing symptoms that can last weeks or months after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Unlike some of the other types of post-COVID conditions that tend only to occur in people who have had severe illness, these symptoms can happen to anyone who has had COVID-19, even if the illness was mild, or if they had no initial symptoms. People commonly report experiencing different combinations of the following symptoms:

- Centers of Disease Control and Prevention