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Young people are suffering with long Covid too – I’m one of them


I assumed that my taste would come back but it still hasn’t (Picture: Niamh Ingram)

In September last year, I was living on campus at university when my household was probed by Test and Trace to take Covid-19 tests.

Although we all felt fine, when the results came through two days later by text during an online seminar at university, all my education focus suddenly went out the window – I had coronavirus.

I’d be okay though, I figured. I was only 18.

How wrong I was: little did I know that months later it would develop into long Covid – an extended sickness affecting all age groups indiscriminately – including young people, contrary to societal opinion.

While infected, I was lucky – I was initially able to attend university zoom calls to my heart’s content. Seemingly, I had no symptoms.

But day five of isolation saw the disappearance of my taste and smell, which I noticed had gone when I opened a bottle of vodka to make myself a drink. I flipped the cap off the bottle, and felt nothing of the burning smell. I drank a capful, and it resembled water.

I assumed that it would come back but it still hasn’t.

September rolled into November, and I just wasn’t feeling right. I didn’t have a clue what long Covid was at this point, so the possibility of that never crossed my mind. My taste and smell hadn’t returned – the term for this being anosmia – and I was sleeping extensively. This was getting on for two months.

Alarms couldn’t wake me up, and I was horrendously lethargic. It once took 20 minutes to wash my own face, because I lacked the energy to even motion my arms. The feeling of helplessness I felt at this point (and still experience to this day) was crippling.

This was the slippery slope of what I am now well accustomed to: long Covid.

December and January brought yet more symptoms. I developed parosmia, where anything smells and tastes of what has been coined ‘Covid smell’. It’s a wild amalgamation of sewage, rotting flesh, faeces, strong chemicals and cigarette smoke. Other times I can’t taste or smell at all. This has been by far the most debilitating for me.

What exactly smells or tastes horrendous changes daily, and sometimes I can’t bare the smell of my own skin and hair. As condescending as it sounds, you really cannot comprehend it until you experience it first hand.

As someone who attended endless live gigs and festivals before the pandemic, I can’t begin to comprehend the sensory overload I’ll experience there once everything opens back up.

Currently, even doing my weekly food shop is a military effort for trying not to vomit at the overwhelming Covid smell from the various aisles at the supermarket.

Foods are rejected by my body – I throw up and feel violently nauseous – and my appetite is non-existent. This began in January, four months post test result.

It’s important for young people to speak about our experiences

It’s draining, and I dread the return back to ‘normality’ for fear of not being able to go for a normal meal out with my friends. This adds to my overall anxiety surrounding the return to regular life – how on earth am I going to cope in a restaurant? 

I can’t isolate myself from living a typical 18-year-old’s life, but at the same time I cannot be spending the majority of my time in a restaurant vomiting in the ladies’ toilets.

The list of symptoms aren’t limited to these: my breathing has taken a toll, like when I get breathless at the littlest of activities if I don’t regularly take my steroid inhaler and I’m used to watching clumps of hair fall from my head.

Five months post-infection I was at my wit’s end, so I took to social media. I hadn’t thought to consult a GP because I didn’t think they would be able to help.

I found a Facebook ‘long Covid’ support group. I thought that this group would be a place in which I could gain solace at the fact that there were other people like me – which I did, initially. It was a relief to see others feeling a similar way to myself.

A day or two after joining the group, a member posted about trialling smell training. It’s a process of smelling four different oils – clove, eucalyptus, rose and lemon – which is supposed to stimulate the nerves associated with the senses of smell and taste.

After seeing this post, I tried it for myself, which I am now six weeks into.

I identified with others who knew what the ‘Covid taste’ was like, and how to cope with the array of debilitating symptoms.

One thing stuck out like a sore thumb though: I was by far the youngest in the Facebook group. I still am to this day. I’ve stumbled across the occasional 20-year-old, but have noticed a serious age gap.

The groups are filled with middle-aged or older people – who are all immensely supportive – yet I do feel somewhat isolated as someone who is experiencing the condition at such a different stage in their life.

A recent study found children can suffer with long Covid for around eight months on average, with the ONS suggesting around one in 10 people who get coronavirus will develop long Covid.

There are clearly more people out there like me. I also assume that they are unaware of these support groups, where there is an opportunity to speak to people who really do understand you.

It’s important for young people to speak about our experiences. At a time where there is talk of mental health becoming a ‘second pandemic’, we should be opening up about our symptoms – and how they make us feel – more often.

The gradual release of restrictions is a scary time for us: emphasised by the fact that we simply don’t know how our bodies will react to unfamiliar settings such as clubs, bars and restaurants.

We need to be made aware of the help available to us. I had no idea about smell training, and have every faith that it’ll help me. 

I didn’t know long Covid clinics existed until two months ago. I’m currently being referred to one of these, after hearing about it through a family member who works in the NHS.

The process involves a few scans and blood tests, but I hope that I’ll finally be faced with someone willing to listen to me and provide some form of professional advice regarding how to cope with my symptoms.

With long Covid, nobody knows what the future holds. I want to live a normal life: I just hope that my body will permit me to do so.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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