Long-haul COVID: Fatigue, brain fog, smell and taste issues are key symptoms

One in five of those who contract COVID struggle with long term symptoms according to Mayo Clinic research
Long-Haul COVID
A COVID patient who has been struggling with long term effects, including significant fatigue, since 2020. Photo credit (Getty Images / picture alliance / Contributor)

There have been more than 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 in Minnesotasince the beginning of the pandemic. One in five of those cases have left lingering long term effects according to researchers at the Mayo clinic in Rochester, and it's become what we know as long COVID.

But what symptoms are included in long COVID? It turns out there are many, but the most common one is lingering fatigue.

“Patients with long-haul COVID, their fatigue is quite profound,” says Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn of Mayo Clinic who has been working with patients on these long term symptoms. “So, for example, many patients will say that they do something really simple, like take out the trash or go for a brief walk around their home with the dog, and then they'll have to take a nap for three or four hours. Or even have symptoms that last for several days.”

Vanichkachorn says the other common symptoms are shortness of breath and loss of taste or smell.

“About a third of patients are going to have some prolonged taste and smell troubles after the acute infection,” says Vanichkachorn. “But, fortunately according to our research, most people will get this back over time. Only about 5% of individuals seem to have really ongoing difficulties.”

But there are others that are concerning, including what doctors call brain fog and that includes trouble thinking, multitasking, and short term memory loss along with neurological issues like headaches. Vanichkachorn does note that a severe case of COVID doesn't mean you'll experience long COVID.

So, how do you know if your symptoms are a sign of long COVID?

“Yeah, this is the million dollar question right now,” Vanichkachorn admits. “There is no good test, first of all, that we can do right now that will say, ‘aha, this is long COVID’ versus something else. We really only have the clinical history to go through that someone's experienced the difficulties thinking after having an acute COVID infection. But I often remind folks that it's not just usually one thing that will cause brain fog. It could be the COVID infection and long-haul COVID, it could be a fatigue from just recovering from infection, and it could be the stress of the whole situation on top of the pandemic. So there's a lot of things that come together.”

Luckily there's a treatment, at least for the issue of smell and taste.

“The nerves involved in taste and smell, they can actually grow back,” Vanichkachorn said. “And the way we do that is to help stimulate them. Olfactory retraining involves smelling certain odors like rose and eucalyptus twice a day for about three minutes at a time. And this can help stimulate the nerves to grow back in the proper fashion.”

Vanichkachorn also notes that you can get symptoms even if you are originally asymptomatic and tested positive for COVID.

See all parts of WCCO's Five-Part Series on Long-Haul COVID here.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: (Getty Images / picture alliance / Contributor)