‘Long colds’ exist, as well as long Covid - Barts Charity

‘Long colds’ exist, as well as long Covid

Research funded by Barts Charity and led by Queen Mary University of London (Queen Mary), suggests that people may experience long-term health impacts following acute respiratory infections including cold, influenza and pneumonia that are not due to Covid-19.

  • Date: October 6, 2023

The research, the latest output from COVIDENCE UK – a national study set up in 2020 in response to the pandemic – compared the prevalence and severity of long-term symptoms after Covid-19 against other acute respiratory infections for people who test negative for Covid-19.

National study

This study, published in The Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine, analysed data from 10,171 UK adults in the first two months of 2021, when the Covid pandemic was entering its second year.

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. Common symptoms of “long colds” included coughing, stomach pain and diarrhea which were still present four weeks after infection. 

While the severity of the illness appears to be a key driver in the risk of long-term symptoms, more research is being carried out as to why some people suffer extended symptoms and others don’t. 

“Long colds” going unrecognised

Long Covid is now a recognised condition, but there have been few studies comparing long-term symptoms following SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection with other respiratory infections. And while there isn’t evidence to suggest the symptoms have the same severity or duration as long Covid, the findings highlight the need for more research into the long-lasting impacts of other acute respiratory infections.  

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.
Professor Adrian Martineau, Chief Investigator of COVIDENCE UK and Clinical Professor of Respiratory Infection and Immunity
Our findings shine a light not only on the impact of long Covid on people’s lives, but also other respiratory infections. 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.
Giulia Vivaldi, researcher on COVIDENCE UK and the lead author of the study

Our dedication to healthcare 

We are dedicated to supporting improvements to healthcare for our community in East London through supporting innovative research. We swiftly supported COVIDENCE UK in response to the outbreak of Covid-19 to help inform of its risk factors and impacts. These findings highlight not only the long-term symptoms experienced by people after Covid infection, but by people after other acute respiratory infections as well. As we learn more about long Covid symptoms and their possible treatments, studies like this help to build greater awareness around other prolonged respiratory infections that may be going unrecognised.