As the world continues to battle COVID-19, we learn new information about the pandemic every day.
One such learning is the Long COVID aka post-COVID-19 fatigue syndrome. This is a long-term condition that a few people suffer after contracting and recovering from COVID-19. Weeks after the initial COVID infection, many people experience breathlessness, headache, loss of taste, loss of smell, hearing loss, vertigo, dizziness, cough, stuffy nose, ringing in the ears and so on.
Many patients do not even understand what long COVID syndrome is and how it impacts some of the most significant sensory organs such as the ear, nose and throat. Dr Sonali Pandit, consultant ENT and Dr Kirti Sabnis, infectious disease specialist, at Fortis Hospital, Mulund share exactly how to handle the continuing symptoms of Coronavirus long after you have tested negative.
How Long COVID causes ENT issues
COVID mainly causes distinct upper respiratory tract-related symptoms including nasal congestion, sore throat, and smell dysfunctions. It can also involve the lower respiratory tract causing symptoms such as cough, difficulty in breathing and chest tightness.
In most patients with mild COVID, symptoms like Anosmia (absence of smell sensation), Cacosmia (distorted smell perception, either with or without an odorant stimulus present), hyposmia (reduced sense of smell) are present. These symptoms can last up to few weeks however if patients continue to experience these symptoms beyond 4 weeks, they must report them to their doctors.
The loss of taste also accompanies the loss of smell. A lot of patients who have had long ICU stays developed positional vertigo while others report ringing in the ears. If you have recovered from COVID, you must also be cautious about persistent headaches and facial pain as these may indicate a deeper problem, such as black fungus or mucormycosis. If unchecked, the infection can reach up to the brain and eyes.
Ways to treat these
Smell dysfunction such as Anosmia and Hyposmia are self-limiting conditions and a majority of patients are likely to recover within 4 weeks. This is because COVID-19 doesn’t damage the olfactory neurons but harms the supporting cells. Once the virus is out of your system, the supporting cells regain strength and your sense of smell is restored.
However, if you do not get regain your sense of smell, doctors recommend steroids nasal spray, decongestant nasal spray and olfactory training that involves smell training techniques. Loss of taste is also a self-limiting condition that many patients recover from in a few weeks. However, if these symptoms impact the quality of life, then people should seek help.
Meanwhile, patients experiencing a sudden onset of hearing loss should immediately report to an ENT surgeon. In such cases, an audiogram is performed to gauge the extent of hearing loss and the treatment usually includes IV/ oral steroids and injecting of steroids in the eardrum. The hearing recovery is unpredictable but earlier diagnosis and treatment improve the prognosis.
In the case of Mucormycosis too, an earlier diagnosis and treatment such as anti-fungal medicine and surgery will greatly improve the chances of recovery. It is also important to note that these treatments are prescribed on a case-to-case basis and patients are advised not to self medicate.