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Long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms: Patients want answers


For patients with any degree of enduring dyspnea, more so in the acute phase, I recommend home pulse oximetry for monitoring their oxygen saturation if it is financially and technically feasible for them to obtain one. Sending a patient to the ED is an option of last resort, but one that is necessary in some cases. I expect patients with lingering symptoms to tell me that symptoms may be persisting, hopefully gradually improving, and not getting worse. If post–COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, dyspnea, fatigue, or lightheadedness are new or worsening, particularly rapidly, the safest and best option I advise patients is to go to the ED for further assessment and testing. Postviral bacterial pneumonia is something we should consider, and there is some potential for aspergillosis as well.

Q: Do you have any concerns about patients with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or other pulmonary issues having lingering symptoms that may mask exacerbations or may cause exacerbation of their disease?

Dr. Gupta: So far, patients with chronic lung conditions do not appear to have not been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in terms of absolute numbers or percentage wise compared to the general public. I think that sheltering in place has been readily followed by many of these patients, and in addition, I assume better adherence to their maintenance therapies has likely helped. The very few cases of patients with underlying chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and interstitial lung disease that I have seen have fared very poorly when they were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the hospital. There are emerging data about short-term outcomes from severe COVID-19 infection in patients with interstitial lung disease in Europe (medRxiv. 2020 Jul 17. doi: 10.1101/2020.07.15.20152967), and from physicians treating pulmonary arterial hypertension and chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2020 Jul 29. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.202005-521OC). But so far, little has been published on the outcomes of mild disease in these patients with chronic lung disease.

Q: It’s still early days to know the significance of lingering symptoms. But at what point do you begin to consider the possibility of some kind of relapse? And what is your next move if the symptoms get worse?

Dr. Gupta: COVID-19 recurrence, whether because of reinfection or relapse, is a potential concern but not one that is very commonly seen so far in my purview. Generally, symptoms of post–COVID-19 infection that are lingering trend toward getting better, even if slowly. If post–COVID-19 infection symptoms are progressing (particularly if rapidly), that would be a strong indication to evaluate that patient in the ED (less likely in clinic), reswab them for SARS-CoV-2, and obtain further testing such as blood work and imaging. A significant challenge from a research perspective will be determining if coinfection with another virus is playing a role as we move closer to the fall season.


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