Most people who get COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms they can treat at home and make a full recovery within a couple of weeks. But some may face long COVID, an ongoing set of health problems—physical and/or mental—that can last for several months.

Long COVID can affect you in various ways and last for different lengths of time. You may also hear it referred to as post-COVID-19 conditions, long-haul COVID and post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC).

We are still learning a great deal about long COVID’s short- and long-term effects. However, it is important to familiarize yourself with what is currently known so you can continue to make well-informed decisions to protect yourself and others.

(Long COVID was the focus of a recent webinar presented by the University of Maryland Medical System. If you missed it, you can watch and learn more: “Let’s Talk About Health” community conversation).

What Is Long-Haul COVID?

Long COVID is defined as symptoms that cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis and last at least two months following an initial COVID-19 infection. It is usually after three months (12 weeks) of persistent symptoms when a patient is suspected of having long COVID.

Long COVID can affect anyone of any age, including children and adolescents. Even if you had mild or no symptoms when you were first infected, you can be impacted by long COVID.

For some, long COVID symptoms can be more severe than the acute COVID-19 infection itself. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms can persist from the initial illness or begin after recovery, and they may come and go or improve over time.

Long COVID can interfere with a person’s ability to perform normal, everyday activities, like work and household chores. With children, it can affect their ability to do their schoolwork. While it cannot be predicted how long a given patient may experience long COVID, some research has shown that patients can get better over time.

Long COVID Symptoms

Long COVID symptoms are different from acute COVID symptoms. Conditions can include, but are not limited to:

  • Persistent cough
  • Loss of (or changes in) taste and smell
  • Depression
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Sleeping problems
  • Lightheadedness
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations
  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Poor appetite

How Does Long COVID Affect Children?

Some common symptoms seen in children include fatigue, headache, trouble sleeping and concentrating, muscle and joint pain, and cough. As with other medical conditions, young children may have trouble describing the problems they are experiencing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), information on long COVID in children and adolescents is limited, so it is possible other symptoms may be likely in younger age groups.

If your child is suffering from long COVID and is unable to complete their normal school assignments, it might be best to ask school administrators about accommodations such as extra time to complete tests and assignments, rest periods throughout the school day and modified class schedules, says the CDC.

What Causes Long COVID?

It is unknown why people experience long COVID. The cause is still an active area of research. Some experts believe the cause is potentially due to the body’s hyper-inflammatory immune response to a new germ.

Does Vaccination Help Prevent Post-COVID Conditions?

Research on the effects of authorized COVID-19 vaccines on long COVID conditions is ongoing. Please keep in mind that vaccines are intended to prevent severe illness and death from COVID-19. You can still get infected even if you are vaccinated.

A vaccine’s ability to prevent post COVID-19 condition depends on its ability to prevent COVID-19 in the first place, according to WHO.

Am I Contagious if I Have Long COVID?

No. Conditions associated long COVID cannot be passed on to others.

Can I Protect Myself Against Long COVID?

The best way to protect against long COVID is to do what you can to protect yourself against COVID-19 in general, which is through a combination of strategies.

First, get vaccinated, and then once you’re fully vaccinated, get a booster shot as soon as you are eligible for one. You should also continue other COVID-19 preventive measures including:

  • Wearing a well-fitted mask over your nose and mouth (particularly in indoor public places)
  • Avoiding large, indoor gatherings of people
  • Maintaining six feet of distance from others where possible
  • Washing/sanitizing your hands frequently

What Should I Do if I Have Long COVID?

If you think you are suffering from long COVID, consult your doctor right away. Right now, there is no medication or therapy for treating long COVID, but your doctor can advise you as how to best manage your symptoms.