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Omicron Symptoms Doctors Say are "The Worst"

Five COVID symptoms many patients struggle with, according to experts. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

COVID cases are declining and the United States is starting to reopen, but that doesn't mean the virus has been eradicated. Thousands of people are still getting infected daily and millions are dealing with lingering effects of COVID. While every person who gets COVID reacts differently, there are symptoms that are causing challenges for many. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Bernadette Boden-Albala, MPH, DrPH, Director and Founding Dean, University of California, Irvine Program in Public Health who explained what the worst symptoms of COVID are for patients physically and mentally.  Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Difficulty Breathing/Shortness of Breath

Sick woman feeling chest pain and wearing face mask in a lobby at medical clinic.

Boden-Albala says, "Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath are common symptoms that appear at the onset of SARS-CoV-2 infection and can persist for four or more weeks after first being infected. Such cases are commonly referred to as 'long haul' COVID. Breathlessness is a debilitating symptom that can impact a person's daily activities, interfere with their psychological well-being, and disrupt their social life. Some of the behavioral consequences associated with this symptom include avoiding exercise, social isolation, reduced self-esteem, and anxiety when breathlessness is perceived as a near-death experience. This is especially true for COVID 'long haulers,' who may develop a fear of getting infected, become increasingly dependent on care, and suffer from job and financial problems as a result."


Brain Fog

Woman hands on his head felling headache dizzy sense of spinning dizziness with motion

According to Boden-Albala, "Research shows that COVID-19 impacts brain health. Many patients report experiencing 'brain fog' – a condition characterized by difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating, memory loss, and forgetfulness. While the causes of this symptom are still being studied, there is evidence that COVID-19 can affect the brain by blocking blood flow and infecting astrocytes, a type of cell that is abundant in the brain and supports brain function. Brain fog is distressing to patients and can impact their relationships, personal and professional identity, sense of stigma, and more. These findings underscore the need for greater access to mental health services nationwide."



Woman recovering from an illness in bed at home.

Boden-Albala states, "Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19, especially for 'long haulers.' Research shows that patients exhibiting this symptom also tend to experience worse sleep quality, pain, and depressive symptoms. The burdens of fatigue are vast and can affect a person's ability to return to work, impacting their finances, sense of identity, and more."

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Social Isolation

Thoughtful girl sitting on sill embracing knees looking at window, sad depressed teenager spending time alone at home, young upset pensive woman feeling lonely or frustrated thinking about problems

Boden-Albala reminds us that, "COVID-19 can disrupt a person's social life long after recovery. Patients suffering from lingering symptoms like pain and fatigue may develop a fear of future infection that prevents them from engaging in social activities. They may also fear getting others sick."

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Middle aged barefoot woman sitting at the floor embracing her knees, near sofa at home, her head down

Boden-Albala explains, "Inflammatory language in the media, misinformation, and confusion around the origin of the virus, among other factors, have led to a rise in COVID-related stigma. Feelings of uncertainty and anxiety have given rise to patterns of 'othering' based on race/ethnicity, health status, and more. Throughout the pandemic, we've seen stigma experienced in several ways, including enacted stigma (when someone is mocked or avoided by others), internalized stigma (feeling ashamed or worthless), and anticipated stigma (when people alter their behaviors out of fear of being stigmatized in the future). Each of these forms of stigma is associated with negative mental health outcomes like anxiety and depression."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Brunette woman wearing a KN95 FPP2 mask.

Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather