Know any one who survived COVID, but still has symptoms? Two words…long haulers.
Imagine doing everything you can to avoid getting COVID-19.
Masks, social distancing, working remotely, good hygiene. But you still contract the virus.
You suffer through it, recover, and expect to get back to work. But even after tests show you no longer have the virus, you still have symptoms.
That’s the reality for long haulers.
So what’s the plan to help long haulers recover, manage symptoms, and get back to work?
Let’s take a closer look…
COVID cases, the vaccine, and long haulers…
For more than a year, we’ve been getting daily updates about COVID cases. But we haven’t heard a lot about long haulers…yet.
Here’s what we know…
- Positive COVID cases. An estimated 29.3 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- COVID deaths. For some it’s deadly, claiming the lives of 527,726 Americans.
- 33.8 million people are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Another 64 million have received a first dose, according to CDC data. On March 11, President Joe Biden announced plans to make the vaccine available to all adults by May 1.
- COVID long haulers. While many recover from COVID-19 a few weeks after infection, there’s a growing number of people (long haulers) who don’t. In a recent study published in JAMA Network Open , researchers estimate up to one-third of people who contract COVID, still struggle with symptoms months later.
And that’s a problem healthcare professionals are still trying to understand.
The long-hauler dilemma
Imagine the frustration for front-line workers and long haulers…
A patient tests positive for COVID. They suffer through it and “get better.” A follow-up test comes back negative.
But they’re still experiencing a long list of symptoms that weren’t there before COVID.
If you’re a long hauler trying to get back to work after COVID, it’s nothing short of frustrating.
And if you’re a healthcare provider, you may not be sure how to diagnose and treat their symptoms long after COVID.
What are the symptoms of Long Hauler’s Syndrome?
It’s another one of the factors that make diagnosing long haulers difficult.
Symptoms vary from patient to patient. And they can come and go. One day, they’re feeling fine and the next day, they’re hit with a variety of symptoms, including:
- Tightness in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle aches
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep disorders
- Stomach issues
- Fatigue and exhaustion
Take a look at the list, and you can see why long haulers might have a hard time getting back to work.
Now there’s a diagnosis…
With an estimated 33 percent of COVID survivors reporting long-term symptoms, the National Institutes of Health recently adopted a name to diagnose long haulers:
- Post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection, or (PASC)
And it’s clear there’s mounting evidence we have a lot to learn about PASC and the long haulers to get people healthy and back to work.
The NIH has recently received $1.15 billion to fund PASC research to better understand, diagnose and treat long haulers.
Holistic health: 5 ways to help long haulers get well
So how do we help people still struggling after COVID get well and get back to work?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to treating people with PASC.
Long haulers appear to experience symptoms from mild to severe at different times and duration, and symptoms vary from person to person.
It’s why a holistic approach makes the most sense.
Here are five holistic ways to help long haulers:
1. Ask questions & listen
Without a definitive test to diagnose PASC, asking questions and taking the time to listen is the best place to start.
- What’s going on in your life right now?
- How’s your stress level?
- What’s your diet look like?
- How are you sleeping?
- Tell me about your exercise habits.
The goal…Try and figure out what’s really going on BEFORE jumping to a diagnosis or prescribing medication.
Digging a little deeper can help you and your doctor figure out a treatment plan that works.
2. Consider medication part of a treatment plan not THE plan
Take a look at the list of symptoms people diagnosed with PASC have.
There’s no shortage of prescription-grade medications that could treat these symptoms.
Maybe it makes sense to prescribe medication as a short-term solution. But it shouldn’t be THE solution.
If we want to help people recover from PASC, get well and get back to work, we need to do more than treat the symptoms with medications.
3. Practice healthy lifestyle habits
Here’s a reality check, according to CDC data…
- About 73 percent of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese. It’s a known risk factor for complications associated with COVID.
- Only 12 percent of adults eat enough fruit (1.5 to 2 cups a day)
- Just 9 percent of adults eat enough vegetables (2-3 cups per day)
- About 80 percent of adults don’t get the minimum amount of exercise (150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, and two days of resistance exercise)
- 1 out of 3 adults don’t get enough sleep (less than 7 to 9 hours per night)
It’s no secret these lifestyle habits contribute to chronic disease, inflammation, and complications associated with COVID-19 and PASC.
If we’re going to help long haulers get well, healthy lifestyle habits need to be part of the treatment plan, such as:
- Stretching and flexibility
- Strength training
- Aerobic exercise
- Healthy eating habits
- Meditation and mindfulness
- Sleep quality
4. Manage stress in healthy ways
Was 2020 a stressful year? Even if you didn’t get COVID, chances are pretty good you felt the impact of school closures, social distancing, state mandates, and an economic downturn.
Maybe you were anxious and worried about you or a loved one getting sick?
And if you’re a long hauler who was healthy and active before COVID, now what?
When chronic stress follows you around for weeks, months or even years, it creates inflammation that contributes to:
- Mental health problems
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Autoimmune disorders
- Heart attacks
- Gut issues, and more
If you’re a long hauler, you’ve no doubt experienced some or all of these issues. It’s a lot like experiencing a traumatic event that changes your life in an instant.
Getting better means learning to adapt to a new normal, managing stress in healthy ways, and making changes that will help you move forward instead of feeling stuck. Healthy lifestyle habits can make a difference. So can coaching, counseling, and therapy.
5. Change your mindset
Ever have one of those days where you wake up and feel like hiding under the covers?
That’s a reality for long haulers and people living with chronic pain or conditions.
If you focus on feeling defeated, it’s harder to get well, adapt, and change your lifestyle habits. And it’s going to be harder to get back to work. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
You can choose to focus on getting well. You can work proactively with your healthcare team.
And if you’re an employer, you can be part of the solution to help long haulers get back to work with a culture of wellness to promote health, prevent disease, and encourage healthy lifestyle habits.
How do you think we can best help long haulers get back to work? Let’s discuss.