Living with long COVID
For some people, coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection has gone. This is sometimes called post-COVID-19 syndrome or "long COVID".
Jo Flippance is a Care Network Project Support Officer for Bedfordshire Care Group. Jo spoke to us about experience of having COVID-19 – and the long-term effects it has had on her life and is still having over a year later.
Before contracting COVID-19, Jo was fit and healthy, training for a half marathon. Jo caught COVID-19 in March 2020.
People were becoming aware of COVID-19 at the time, but was still not impacting daily life.
After work, Jo went to her evening class at college and remembers feeling really tired. Within days she started to feel a bit unwell but had no COVID-19 symptoms. While on a call, she started coughing and didn’t think anything of it. Early the following day, Jo coughed so hard she had a nosebleed and went into isolation.
I started to get very sick. But, because I’m a nurse, I thought 'I don’t want to go to hospital and be a burden.' I had a temperature and took paracetamol, but the coughing got worse, and I was very tired. I would feed the dogs, then just collapse on sofa.
By the third week, she was still unwell. Her GP put her on a course of antibiotics and told her she was only allowed to work from home.
Jo says she:
...had weird symptoms – COVID-19 is the gift that keeps giving! I started getting blisters on my face, chest, arms; they would just appear. I would touch my face and a blister would appear where touched.
Jo’s cough was now in her throat. Her oxygen stats were dipping to 82% and she was still finding it hard to breathe.
In May, Jo’s health started to improve. She was on a phased return at work, working from home only.
I was pushing myself to do more…. then I crashed for two weeks – turns out you shouldn’t push, you should pace.
Jo continued to get unusual symptoms, such as pins and needles in her hands and feet, disturbed sleep, feeling cold and really hot no matter the weather. Jo experienced brain fogs and memory loss. Jo’s watch tells her what her oxygen stats are; they kept dropping at night, disturbing her sleep.
Some days are easier than others and I’m able to walk further than I could at the beginning of December, but even yesterday felt like walking through treacle.
Jo started pushing herself and that had an impact – a five-minute shopping trip left her having to sit in the car to get her breath back.
But there is also the psychological impact of COVID-19, that people don’t see. Jo could only face going to supermarket in December and found it a scary experience as too many people were not wearing face coverings or maintaining distance and she can’t face going to supermarkets now.
Jo says she was confined within her own four walls for a year and says that crowds now scare her.
Jo has had her vaccine.
I can’t understand why people who are in the vulnerable groups aren’t taking it. People think they are immune. But until it happens to someone close to them, or they have it, they won’t realise.
Jo says long COVID has affected her family as well. Her parents didn’t catch the virus, but they have ended up helping her just when she wanted to be helping them.
Mum has kept me and Dad going. She’s walked my dogs, done my shopping as well as her own and looked after my dad. She’s been our rock.
This is not a virus that goes away after three weeks.
About long COVID
How long it takes to recover from COVID-19 is different for everybody.
Many people feel better in a few days or weeks, and most will make a full recovery within twelve weeks. But for some people, symptoms can last longer.
The chances of having long-term symptoms does not seem to be linked to how ill you are when you first get COVID-19.
People who had mild symptoms at first can still have long-term problems.
Symptoms of long COVID
There are lots of symptoms you can have after a COVID-19 infection.
Common long COVID symptoms include:
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- shortness of breath
- chest pain or tightness
- problems with memory and concentration (brain fog)
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- heart palpitations
- pins and needles
- joint pain
- depression and anxiety
- tinnitus, earaches
- feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
Contact your GP if you're worried about symptoms 4 weeks or more after having COVID-19.
It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP:
- visit your surgery's website
- use the NHS App
- call your surgery
Your doctor will talk to you about the care and support you might need. You may be given advice about how to manage and monitor your symptoms at home. If the symptoms are having a big impact on your life, you may be referred to a specialist rehabilitation service or a service that specialises in the specific symptoms you have. These services can help manage your symptoms and help you recover.
You can find more information to support your recovery on the Your COVID Recovery website.