While long-term symptoms from COVID-19, known as long COVID, have become widely recognized, scientists now suggest that extended ailments, termed “long colds,” can also arise from non-COVID respiratory infections.

The study, from Queen Mary University of London, was published in The Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine.

Some of the most common symptoms of the “long cold” included coughing, stomach pain, and diarrhea more than four weeks after the initial infection. While the severity of an illness appears to be a key driver of the risk of long-term symptoms, more research is being carried out to establish why some people suffer extended symptoms while others do not.

The findings suggest that there may be long-lasting health impacts following non-COVID acute respiratory infections such as colds, influenza, or pneumonia, that are currently going unrecognized. However, the researchers do not yet have evidence suggesting that the symptoms have the same severity or duration as long COVID.

The research, funded by Barts Charity, compared the prevalence and severity of long-term symptoms after an episode of COVID-19 versus an episode of another acute respiratory infection that tested negative for COVID-19. Those recovering from COVID-19 were more likely to experience light-headedness or dizziness and problems with taste and smell compared to those who had a non-COVID-19 respiratory infection.

While long COVID is now a recognized condition, there have been few studies comparing long-term symptoms following SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection versus other respiratory infections.

The study is the latest output from COVIDENCE UK, Queen Mary University of London’s national study of COVID-19, launched in 2020 and still in follow-up, with over 19,000 participants enrolled. 

This study analyzed data from 10,171 UK adults, with responses collected via questionnaires and statistical analysis carried out to identify symptom clusters.

“Our findings shine a light not only on the impact of long COVID on people’s lives, but also other respiratory infections, says Giulia Vivaldi, researcher on COVIDENCE UK from Queen Mary University of London and the lead author of the study, says in a release. “A lack of awareness—or even the lack of a common term—prevents both reporting and diagnosis of these conditions.

“As research into long COVID continues, we need to take the opportunity to investigate and consider the lasting effects of other acute respiratory infections. These ‘long’ infections are so difficult to diagnose and treat primarily because of a lack of diagnostic tests and there being so many possible symptoms. There have been more than 200 investigated for long COVID alone.”

Adrian Martineau, PhD, chief Investigator of COVIDENCE UK and clinical professor of respiratory infection and immunity at Queen Mary University of London, says in a release, “Our findings may chime with the experience of people who have struggled with prolonged symptoms after having a respiratory infection despite testing negative for COVID-19 on a nose or throat swab.

“Ongoing research into the long-term effects of COVID-19 and other acute respiratory infections is important because it can help us to get to the root of why some people experience more prolonged symptoms than others. Ultimately this could help us to identify the most appropriate form of treatment and care for affected people.”

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