Myths and facts about long COVID

Last updated: Dec 05, 2022

What you need to know if some of your COVID-19 symptoms linger.

Mother and daughter with food in a bowl

Still coughing or tired months after a COVID-19 infection? You might have long COVID. In fact, almost 1 in 5 adults who’ve had the virus develop long COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

People with long COVID still have at least one symptom a month after their original COVID-19 infection. That could be a symptom that never went away or a brand-new complaint.

More than 200 symptoms have been linked to long COVID. “These can vary from symptoms like shortness of breath to chest pain to palpitations – all the way to fatigue, brain fog, and worsening depression and anxiety,” says Nisha Viswanathan, MD. She’s the director of the Long COVID program at UCLA Health. Symptoms can last for months, or even go away and then come back again.

But symptoms like fatigue can be signs of other health problems too. That’s why it’s best to see a doctor to understand what’s going on. “Long COVID is actually a diagnosis of exclusion,” says Dr. Viswanathan. “That means you need a thorough workup to ensure that you do not have another condition.”

Experts are studying the best ways to treat long COVID. For now, it’s important to know the basics. Here are myths about long COVID – and the facts that might help you.

Myth: Older people are at the highest risk of long COVID
Not so. If anything, older adults seem to be less likely than younger adults to report having long COVID, according to the CDC.

It may be that fatigue and shortness of breath stand out more in young people. Why? Younger adults have to exert themselves in a far greater way on an average day, both mentally and physically, says Dr. Viswanathan.

Still, anyone from a young child to an older adult can get the condition. So if you think you may have long COVID, check with your doctor.

Myth: You won’t get long COVID if you’re vaccinated
Anyone can get long COVID – even if they’re vaccinated. “Vaccination is protective but not preventive,” says Dr. Viswanathan. The only way to avoid the condition is to not get COVID-19 in the first place.

But research suggests that being vaccinated can make long COVID symptoms less severe. Getting the booster shot may help, too. “There are far fewer patients I'm seeing who are boosted who are having symptoms of long COVID,” Dr. Viswanathan says.

Schedule your COVID-19 vaccine or booster today.

Myth: You can only get long COVID after a severe case
Unfortunately, this is not true. People can get long COVID even if they had a mild case or no symptoms, according to the CDC.

“Often, patients will tell me, ‘Oh, my fatigue was quite mild while I had COVID,’” Dr. Viswanathan says. “They realize a few weeks to a month later they’re feeling very fatigued or having brain fog.” The symptoms can crop up suddenly. And they can get worse over time.

Myth: There’s nothing you can do about long COVID if you get it
It’s true that there’s no one treatment for long COVID. But the good news is that some existing remedies are bringing relief.

For each person, it’s a tailored approach based on symptoms, says Dr. Viswanathan. Doctors are using a combination of traditional treatments, alternative approaches, and physical therapy. A balanced diet can help too.

Taking it easy can also make a difference. “Taking time off from work, or decreasing your hours, can be really effective to help you combat the fatigue,” says Dr. Viswanathan.

That said, there’s no cure for long COVID. And the condition can be life changing.

That’s why it’s important to get vaccinated, which is currently available to all Californians at no cost. Next, follow up with a new bivalent booster if you’re eligible.

Finally, visit your doctor if you don’t bounce back after COVID-19. Your provider can help you understand your symptoms and can create a personalized care plan.

You may be eligible for reimbursement for your over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests.