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Long Colds Versus Long Covid

Our lives have certainly changed since the COVID-19 virus hit the world in 2020. There have been more than one million deaths worldwide. And for some of us fortunate enough to see the other side after contracting the virus, the effects have proven to be long-term, as senses such as taste and smell have still not fully returned. And while COVID is still with us, it is not the only respiratory virus that can have such long-term effects. Many people who have contracted long colds and flus can experience similar symptoms.

What is a Long Cold / Long Flu?

A common cold usually lasts seven to ten days. But a recent study by Queen Mary University of London found that long cold/flu can last up to four weeks. And though long colds and COVID are completely separate entities, both illnesses can severely impact a person’s quality of life. Long colds are defined as experiencing long-term symptoms after an acute respiratory infection that tests negative for COVID-19, such as a common cold, ear infection, or pharyngitis (sore throat).

As for Long COVID, The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as “the continuation or development of new symptoms three months after the initial SARS-CoV-2 infection, with these symptoms lasting for at least two months with no other explanation.

Long Cold / Flu Symptoms versus COVID Symptoms

We might think the symptoms may be similar or even identical because long cold/ flu and long COVID are both infections that attack the respiratory system. But that is not the case. The symptoms of the two viruses are vastly different.

Long Cold Symptoms

These symptoms can happen up to four weeks after contracting an acute respiratory infection.

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach Pain
  • Coughing

Long COVID Symptoms

  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
  • Headache
  • Sleep problems
  • Dizziness when you stand up (lightheadedness)
  • Pins-and-needles feelings
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Depression or anxiety

But a study from the NIH reports that Black patients are also more likely to have the following Long COVID symptoms up to six months after a mild or moderate case of the virus:

  • Chest pain
  • Joint pain
  • Anemia
  • Blood clots in the lungs

If you suspect that you have Long COVID, getting an accurate diagnosis can be difficult. Be persistent until you receive proper care.


More About the Research

The severity of a person’s symptoms of a long cold or flu is directly tied to the severity of the previously contracted acute respiratory illness.

The study by Queen Mary University also researched the different impacts of long COVID versus other acute respiratory infections. The study included 10,171 participants. One thousand three hundred eleven had SARS-CoV-2 infection, and 472 had non-COVID-19 acute respiratory infections (ARI). The findings concluded that participants with SARS-CoV-2 infection had increased odds of problems with taste/smell and lightheadedness or dizziness compared to non-COVID-19 ARIs. In the most severe groups (representing 22% of participants for both SARS-CoV-2 and non-COVID-19 ARI), SARS-CoV-2 infection proved to have a higher probability of problems with taste and smell, hair loss, unusual sweating, unusual racing of the heart, and more memory problems than non-COVID-19 ARI. SARS-CoV-2 and non-COVID-19 ARIs are associated with a wide range of symptoms more than 4 weeks after the acute infection. And both infections can affect a person’s quality of life. The severity of a person’s symptoms of a long cold or flu is directly tied to the severity of the previously contracted acute respiratory illness.

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