The growing burden of long-term covid in the UK

A study recently published in International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology Discusses the ear, nose, and throat (ENT)-related post-acute symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), including vertigo, dyspnea, anosmia, ataxia, and sore throat. Furthermore, post-acute or prolonged COVID symptoms were found to be more common among women and white-identified individuals between the ages of 35-49, as well as individuals with disabilities.

study: The growing burden of prolonged covid in the United Kingdom: insights from the UK coronavirus infection survey. Image credit: Darren Baker /


Long covid refers to symptoms that persist for more than 12 weeks after recovery from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection. Several chronic COVID symptoms have been reported, some of which include headache, myalgia, fatigue, as well as loss of taste and smell. Additionally, parosmia, brain fog, and memory loss have been reported to persist for several months after the initial infection.

Current estimates indicate that chronic Covid currently affects between 3% and 12% of the population of the United Kingdom. Although post-viral syndromes have been widely documented after other types of infections, the long scale of COVID, combined with the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2, requires a better understanding of the epidemiology and risk factors of this syndrome.

The COVID-19 Infection Survey (CIS) is the largest regular survey of COVID-19 and provides essential information to support the UK’s response to the pandemic. As part of the survey, the government was told how many people in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland had tested positive for COVID-19. This information is then used to support decision-making for healthcare policy and public awareness.

About the study

The current study examines the prevalence of ENT-related symptoms of prolonged COVID and aims to identify demographic groups at greatest risk for prolonged COVID.

In a longitudinal follow-up program involving patients identified through repeated cross-sectional national surveys, a random sample of volunteers living in private homes was selected. Selected participants were two years of age or older. Children under 12 were surveyed by their parents and caregivers.

Responses were analyzed between March 6, 2022 and April 3, 2022. The presence of COVID-19 was confirmed by testing samples and nose and throat swabs, as well as blood tests.

Patients exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms were asked how the disease affected their symptoms and their general health on a daily basis.

Self-reported prolonged covid syndrome was defined as symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after first suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection, unexplained by any other factor. Post-stratification, Bayesian multilevel regression was used for the final analysis, with adjustment for age, sex, and region.

Study Conclusions

ENT-related chronic COVID symptoms identified in this study included dizziness, anosmia, dyspnea, aesthesia, and sore throat. The most common complaint was fatigue, while other common symptoms included dizziness, wheezing, rhinorrhea, sneezing, asthma, odor, loss of taste, and sore throat.

Adults of white ethnic background aged 35–49 years had the highest estimated prevalence of self-reported chronic covid at 4.13%. Women had a longer estimated covid trajectory than men at 3.20% and 2.34%, respectively.


The current study was based on a large and weighted sample of participants and a longitudinal follow-up period, which contributed to the strength of the study. The study findings indicate that future policies should focus on identifying and supporting the most vulnerable groups in the UK by increasing access to treatment for chemosensory disorders and COVID clinics.

However, the possibility of misleading results due to lack of response or follow-up dropouts that hampered the validation of prolonged COVID cannot be ruled out. Furthermore, the prevalence of post-COVID syndrome may be overestimated by including symptoms only four weeks after confirmed infection.

Additionally, the survey relied on self-reporting. Specific data confirming associations between rhinorrhea, sneezing, and wheezing symptoms and individual COVID variants were not available for this analysis.

Journal Reference:

  • Gokani, SA, Ta, NH, Espehana, A., et al. (2022). The growing burden of prolonged covid in the United Kingdom: insights from the UK coronavirus infection survey. International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology. doi:10.1002/alr.23103

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