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Research team finds late-presenting symptoms in long COVID patients

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Posted at 2:00 AM, May 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-27 12:23:09-04

CHICAGO, Ill.  — As some people are moving beyond the COVID pandemic in their daily lives, there are those still stuck with the sickness. Experts say 70% - 80% of people who develop long COVID get better in three to five months, but for the rest, new research finds some symptoms can hang on for months or even years.

Crystal Barker King said about two months after she recovered from a mild case of COVID, her hair started to fall out.

"I immediately thought, I'm not going out of the house," Barker King said. "If you don't feel good about yourself when you look in the mirror, it's really hard to go out into the community."

Dr. Syeda Hussain, Medical Director of the Post Covid Program at Memorial Healthcare System, said she's treating many long COVID patients who are suffering from hair loss. She's also currently treating many cases where symptoms include joint and muscle pain and tingling sensations.

"The biggest mystery is we just don't know who's going to develop those symptoms," Dr. Hussain said.

Dr. Hussain said hair loss is common after any major illness or stressful life event. She also pointed out COVID somehow triggers a person's hair to go from a growing phase to a resting phase. She said hair usually falls out about three months later.

"The good news is if the stress is controlled and the nutrition status is good, it will pass," Dr. Hussain said.

At Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, Dr. Igor Koralnik, chief of Neuro-Infectious Diseases & Global Neurology, just finished a follow-up study of non-hospitalized long COVID patients.

"We saw, as a whole, the group tended to improve over time, but on the individual basis, there are people who tend to stay flat, and there are people who crash even 18 months after the disease onset," he said.

Dr. Koralnik's research team found loss of taste and smell improves for most patients over time, but other symptoms, like brain fog, can persist.

Kristy, a mother in South Florida, is experiencing brain fog and other long COVID symptoms.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm stuttering over words when I know exactly what I want to say," she said.

Kristy has struggled for six months with many tasks like buttoning a shirt or putting on earrings.

Dr. Koralnik's research showed that the disease can linger longer.

"We saw that long COVID can last up to 18 months and now even longer," he said.

Some of the other major findings by the research team at Northwestern Medical include that some long COVID symptoms present 15 months after the initial infection like heart rate and blood pressure variations, nausea and vomiting.

Barker King is active on social media and openly discusses home remedies, such as rosemary oil and aloe, which have helped her with hair loss.

Kristy is seeing improvement in her condition through continued occupational therapy.

"I feel much better about the outlook," Kristy said. "I actually put on a necklace by myself yesterday, and I was so excited."

Dr. Koralnik said his continued research will next focus on why people get long COVID in the first place.