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Think You Have Long COVID? How Your Vagus Nerve Can Help

Their symptoms may not be the same, but what COVID long haulers have in common is they have not returned to their pre-COVID health. Many who have presumably recovered from COVID-19 are still dealing with distressing symptoms, sometimes vague or nonspecific, that will not go away, even months after initial infection with the virus. From fatigue to brain fog to shortness of breath, these symptoms are wide and varied, and often take a dramatic toll on quality of life.

COVID long haul doesn’t just affect those who were seriously ill with an acute case of the infection - research shows that many long haulers only had mild disease initially.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that many of those still experiencing lingering symptoms couldn’t get tested when they were first ill, because tests were unavailable or scarce, or symptoms did not match a list that we now understand was incomplete. In New York, for example, no diagnostics were available for asymptomatic to moderate cases of COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic.

Not having “proof” of prior COVID infection can make it more difficult to be taken seriously when you’re trying to figure out what is wrong with you and how to feel better.

Not only might you be managing the physical after effects of contracting the coronavirus, but you may also be managing the emotional toll of communicating to employers, doctors, friends, and even loved ones, there’s something wrong.

Mymee works with COVID long haulers with a range of symptoms, including those that defy “easy” classification. Many initially had mild symptoms of COVID-19, but are suffering greatly with the post viral condition, long COVID. Some report experiencing upwards of 20+ symptoms, some of which can be severe or debilitating.

Below lists an overview of some of the most common symptoms associated with post-COVID syndrome and that we see in our program.

Top 10 Common Symptoms of COVID Long Haul

  1. Respiratory issues (coughing, shortness of breath)
  2. Ongoing, sometimes debilitating, fatigue
  3. Racing heart or rapid heart beat
  4. Brain fog or memory and attention issues
  5. Joint pain and/or muscle aches
  6. Loss of taste and smell, even if this didn’t occur during the height of illness
  7. Difficulty sleeping or sleep abnormalities
  8. Headaches
  9. Heartburn and other digestive issues (nausea, abdominal pain, bloating)
  10. Inability to exercisesigns-of-covid-longhaul

Every COVID-19 Case is Different

Covid long haulers have been confounding the medical establishment, which is quickly trying to learn more about the syndrome and understand how to address it. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID long haul, it is important to first consult your doctor so they can rule out other conditions that may require medical attention. 

What is clear is that COVID long haul affects each person differently. Not only are symptoms quite variable but so are their timing and duration. Some individuals report post-COVID symptoms improving after a few weeks only to return, seemingly out of the blue, days or weeks later. Others have had persistent, unrelenting symptoms for many months. This variability adds to the struggle experts face in trying to understand, define and develop effective treatment for COVID long haulers.

Stimulating Your Vagus Nerve Can Help

COVID long haul is overwhelming, but there are steps you can take to feel better. If you are suffering from any of the symptoms outlined above and have consulted with a physician to rule out other causes, stimulating your vagus nerve is one way to begin taking charge of your health.

COVID is thought to affect the nervous system by keeping it stuck in the ‘fight or flight’ mode, leading to changes in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing, as well as symptoms of fear, worry and apprehension. Normally, when the body is not under stress, an important nerve, called the vagus nerve, sends signals that strengthen the ‘rest and digest’ state, allowing you to relax, digest your food and have a good night sleep.

Simple techniques to stimulate the vagus nerve can help shift the body out of fight or flight mode and regain peace and calm, even during tough times. These 3 vagal stimulation exercises can help:  

  • Deep/slow belly breathing. To practice deep belly breathing, inhale through your nose and exhale through either your mouth or nose (whichever is more comfortable for you). Place a hand on your belly and inhale so that it expands like a balloon. On your exhale, let your belly contract fully. Over time, try to lengthen your exhalation; the slower the exhalation, the more you will stimulate the vagus nerve. This takes a little practice. Aim to slow your breathing down to as little as 6 breaths a minute. Just three minutes of deep belly breathing can soothe and calm the nervous system.
  • Cold water face immersion. Immerse your forehead, eyes and about ⅔ of both cheeks into cold water. You can also try turning down the shower temperature at the end of your shower for a 30 seconds of cold immersion. This is a very powerful, proven way to increase vagal nerve activity.
  • Exercise - slowly. Movement is a powerful way to improve your vagal tone but isn’t always well tolerated for long haulers. Before starting any movement, make sure to get clearance from your doctor. The mantra is “low and slow”. It will take time to rebuild your tolerance and it is really important to listen to your body. If your heart rate spikes, your breathing becomes very labored, you experience dizziness or other concerning symptoms, stop and let your body return to baseline. You might consider seated stretching, gentle yoga, or short slow walks initially. Even if you were accustomed to vigorous exercise prior to COVID, it is critically important to be patient with yourself and increase your physical activity slowly.  

Stay tuned for more tips for COVID long haulers, managing symptoms, and finding relief. 

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above,  are a COVID long hauler or know someone who may be, find out how Mymee’s COVID long haul program can help.

References:

 

  1. As Their Numbers Grow, COVID-19 “Long Haulers” Stump Experts. JAMA. 2020https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2771111
  2. COVID-19 and POTS: Is There a Link? Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2020. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/covid19-and-pots-is-there-a-link

 

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