Covid: From head to toe – the body blows of long Covid

More than 200 symptoms have been reported in Covid-19 survivors, according to Dr Janet Diaz of the World Health Organisation. Shortness of breath, brain fog and fatigue are the most common, but other reported symptoms affect nearly every part of the body.

Source: Sunday Times, 15th Aug 2021
Text: Tanya Farber, Graphic/Layout: Nolo Moima

From Head to Toe – the body blows of long Covid

HAIR LOSS

Although it’s not yet known what percentage of Covid-19 survivors have experienced hair loss, the nature of the condition seems consistent. Hair loss comes on suddenly, with hair typically falling out in large clumps while brushing or showering.

EYE ABNORMALITIES

Many people get pink-eye when they’re sick but it clears quickly and there is no long-term problem. However, a new study published in Radiology shows people with severe Covid-19 may be at risk for certain eye abnormalities. Experts believe the viral infection may affect blood vessels, and this can lead to nodules in the back of the eye.

HEARING LOSS AND TINNITUS

Although rare, cases of hearing loss have been reported as symptoms of long Covid. Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and dizziness have also been documented in approximately 15% and 7% of people respectively.

LOSS OF SMELL AND TASTE

Scientists have found the virus can penetrate the olfactory bulb, which is a small area of the brain that helps us recognise smells. The virus can kill some of the cells in the olfactory bulb, resulting in loss of smell or confused sense of smell. Loss of taste is also common but scientists say improvements should appear within one month and recovery of these senses can take six months or more.

SKIN PROBLEMS

People who’ve recovered from Covid-19 have reported dermatological problems including hives, lesions and red, scaly rashes. Doctors suspect these conditions might result from persistent inflammation in the body.

BRAIN FOG

This long-Covid syndrome has been tracked across the globe, and the latest research from King’s College London shows that those who were severely ill have trouble with problem-solving tasks and paying attention. The virus cannot penetrate the blood-brain barrier but data suggests it has been “hitching” a lift on nasal sensory cells that connect the nose to an area of the brain that handles emotion, learning and memory.

DAMAGED HEART

Imaging tests months after recovery have shown lasting damage to the heart muscle, even in people who had only mild disease. This may increase the risk of heart failure or other cardiac complications. According to Johns Hopkins University, the cells in the heart have receptors where the coronavirus attaches before entering cells. Heart damage can be due to inflammation in the body caused by the immune system trying to fight off the virus.

LUNG/BREATHING PROBLEMS

The pneumonia that many Covid-19 patients suffer can cause long-standing damage to the tiny air sacs called alveoli in the lungs. The scar tissue left by this can cause long-term breathing problems. Scans of Covid-19 survivors’ lungs often find them”riddled with opaque patches that indicate inflammation”, according to science journal Nature. This can make it difficult to breathe during exercise.

COVID TOES

This begins as a bright red colouration (of the toes, but sometimes the fingers too) which then turns purple. For some it is painless, for others it can cause blistering, itchiness and pain. Occasionally, it can also cause raised bumps or patches of rough skin, and some people experience pus under the skin.

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FACT BOX

GENERAL PROBLEMS

Fatigue is the most common but other health complaints reported globally include insomnia, dizziness, joint pain, pins and needles, stomach ache and loss of appetite. Scientists are also looking into the issue of long-term risk of stroke after Covid-19 since it is now well known that the disease can, in the short and medium term, cause blood clots that lead to stroke. There has also been a dramatic mental health fallout, with many who’ve been sick reporting chronic depression and anxiety. It’s not only the disease that has caused havoc – treatment and lockdown have taken their toll, too. According to a report in science journal Nature, “some of the damage is likely to be a side effect of intensive treatments such as intubation, whereas other lingering problems could be caused by the virus itself”.

SECONDARY FALLOUTS

Lockdowns around the world have caused a secondary fallout from the pandemic. Examples include weight gain, mental health problems, and, increasingly, myopia (nearsightedness). This is particularly concerning among schoolchildren. A recent study in China, involving more than 100,000 primary school children, found myopia had increased by between 10% and 15%, raising concerns that “home confinement may have worsened the burden of myopia owing to substantially decreased time spent outdoors and increased screen time at home”.

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