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HealthInfo Canterbury

Long COVID

Although most people with COVID-19 get better within weeks of their illness, some people experience long COVID.

Long COVID is a term used to describe the effects of COVID-19 that continue for weeks or months beyond the initial illness.

You might also hear it called post-COVID syndrome, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID or chronic COVID.

Anyone who has had COVID-19 can develop long COVID. Even people who had a mild case of COVID-19 can get long COVID. Long COVID is seen in all age groups, including children. Read more about long COVID in children.

There's no specific length of time that this condition lasts for. Symptoms may improve one week but come back the next. This pattern can last from three weeks to more than a year.

You're more likely to get long COVID if you're older, if you have other health conditions, if your initial COVID-19 illness was severe, if you're female or if you have a high BMI.

Long COVID symptoms

Symptoms vary and are different from the typical COVID-19 symptoms.

People have reported symptoms such as:

  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain or tightness
  • problems with memory and concentration ("brain fog")
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • heart palpitations
  • dizziness
  • pins and needles
  • joint pain
  • changes to the sense of smell or taste
  • tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • earaches
  • feeling sick
  • diarrhoea (runny poo)
  • stomach aches
  • loss of appetite
  • fever (a high temperature)
  • cough
  • headaches
  • sore throat
  • rashes.

Treating long COVID

As long COVID is still new, scientists and healthcare providers are still working out the best ways to manage and treat it. Treatment usually involves managing the symptoms that affect you the most.

The most important thing you can do is get enough rest and pace yourself during your recovery. Frequent short rests are better than a few longer ones, so rest before you become exhausted. Plan what you're going to do and don't overexert yourself. Try to break tasks that feel difficult into smaller chunks, and alternate easier and harder activities.

There are some tips on:

Contact your GP or healthcare team for help with managing and treating your long COVID symptoms.

Contact your GP if you develop any new or worsening symptoms, such as:

Call 111 or seek urgent medical care if you have any of the following symptoms:

Keep track of your symptoms

Because the symptoms and experiences of long COVID aren't very clear, it can be useful to keep track of your symptoms.

Recording them in a diary or keeping a log can help you better understand your symptoms, work out which symptoms affect you the most and identify any patterns and changes. You may also find it useful to take this diary to your appointments with your healthcare providers.

There are a several apps you can download to track your symptoms. If you prefer a paper version, you can find one here.

Vaccines and long COVID

The best way to prevent long COVID is to prevent COVID-19 illness. For people who are eligible, getting vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as you can is the best way to prevent getting COVID-19. Research has shown that people who get severe COVID symptoms are more likely to get long COVID. This isn't surprising as the worse your symptoms are, the longer it's likely to take to recover from them. As vaccination reduces the risk of severe COVID, hospitalisation and death, it's therefore likely to reduce your chances of getting long COVID.

There's some evidence that getting a COVID-19 vaccination (if you aren't already vaccinated) can help to aid your recovery during long COVID. About a third of those who get the vaccine have reported some improvement in their symptoms. But a few people feel worse, and others find it has no effect. Research into this is ongoing.

Getting support with long COVID

The lack of information about long COVID and support for those experiencing it can be frustrating. Remember you aren't alone – there are people all around the world experiencing long COVID.

There are online groups for people with long COVID where you can get support and meet others with this condition:

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub collaborative. Page created February 2022.

Sources

See also:

Caring for yourself at home with COVID-19

Caring for your child at home with COVID-19

COVID-19 testing

COVID-19 vaccines

Page reference: 968303

Review key: HICOV-710714