Long haul COVID-19 patients seeking help

Posted at 5:17 PM, Jun 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-28 19:20:01-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX18) — Even though more than 2,000,000 Kentuckians have taken the COVID-19 vaccine, the battle against the pandemic continues.

More than 460,000 positive cases have been detected in Kentucky since March 2020.

Most of those patients fully recovered, but as we've learned through our reporting, some, even months later, are dealing with long-term after-effects.

"When the pandemic started, we thought that COVID is primarily a disease of lungs, and patients are getting sick of pneumonia. Severe pneumonia that is caused by COVID. But as we learned more and more about this virus and this disease, we have learned that it's actually multi-organ condition," said Dr. Ronak Jani, a neurologist at Baptist Health in Lexington.

Six months into the pandemic, Dr. Jani began to see more patients, previously diagnosed with COVID, who were continuing to have issues.

"Number one complaint is brain fog. They said they have difficulty concentrating, memory difficulties, speech difficulties, so on and so forth," said Dr. Jani.

Another issue some long haulers experience: post-COVID psychosis.

"So this group of patients will exhibit new onset of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and some of them start having an onset of hallucinations. Mood changes. These are very important symptoms to keep in mind and they need to be treated very very quickly, because if they're not, then it can lead to a lot of disability in this group of patients," said Dr. Jani.

As individual fights continue, Dr. Jani says there is hope.

"The good news is that based on what we've seen in the past six to nine months, the trend, is that more than 70-80% of patients will have complete resolution of symptoms on its own with time," said Dr. Jani. "But about 10-15% of the patients may go on for more than a year, which can be really devastating."

He says there are targeted treatments available for individual symptoms that may work for some long haulers.

"Most of the patients will have more than one symptom. Another symptom-specific treatment is loss of smell. We recommend doing olfactory training where we recommend smelling essential oils 20-30 seconds twice a day for up to three months to retrain those olfactory neurons to help them regain the sense of smell they lost," said Dr. Jani. "If someone comes to me with unrelenting, non-stop, extremely excruciating headaches, my focus would be to treat them with headache medications. Some of the medications we use for migraine headaches use that and it helps."

He says his approach is multi-disciplinary. For those with post-COVID psychosis, he says early treatment is key.

"We recommend treating them with anti-depressant, anti-psychotics. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is very crucial and important. Families need to be educated to help them get better because they have been through this a long time, and that complicates matter even more," said Dr. Jani.

Dr. Jani cautions that there is still much research on treatment to be done, and recovery may not happen overnight.

Above all, he recommends anyone who is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Even though a vaccinated person can still get the virus, he says the chances of being hospitalized or going to the ICU are greatly diminished and that your chances of a quick recovery are increased.