Loss or distorted sense of taste and/or smell. Brain fog. Tinnitus. Fatigue. Digestive issues. For millions of COVID survivors, some of the most life-disrupting symptoms didn’t go away after they tested negative. Worse, many are told by their doctors that they’ll never fully recover. However, physician Robert Groysman, MD reassures these COVID long-haulers (AKA long COVID) there are treatments available that are effective 70 to 80 percent of the time, or more.
Many long COVID survivors are desperate for relief
Long COVID, symptoms that persist long after the initial viral attack, affects an estimated 15% of COVID survivors. The symptoms are no cake walk. Some people with a distorted sense of smell are constantly second guessing themselves: Do they need another shower? Why does their deodorant smell bad? Others are so nauseated by food that they need gastric feeding tubes for nourishment.
It’s no wonder that many long-haulers develop PTSD, anxiety, and/or depression. They also become very vulnerable to unscrupulous ‘experts’ promising help.
“Often their blood work, CT scans, MRIs and other diagnostic tests are normal, yet they still feel sick. People spend a ton of money on nasal sprays, washes and oral medications that don’t work,” comments Groysman, who is both a Diplomate of the American Board of Anesthesia and the American Board of Pain Medicine. “That’s because some doctors are looking for, and trying to treat, the wrong things. The problem with neurologic long covid symptoms is that everything may be normal, but it doesn’t work correctly.”
Long COVID is an imbalance
Like a gas pedal stuck to the floor, Groysman explains that long COVID symptoms happen because the body’s sympathetic nervous system — the fight-or-flight response which is meant to be temporary — has become overstimulated and stays engaged 24/7.
“That down-regulates the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for the automatic things we typically don’t think about such as breathing, swallowing and digestion. Like a seesaw, the two systems need to be brought back in balance.”
He emphasizes, “The nervous and olfactory systems are not broken. If they were, we wouldn’t be able to reverse the symptoms in five minutes.”
Solutions that provide substantial relief
Groysman has seen long COVID patients experience the most relief using one of these two methods for resetting the nervous system balance.
- Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB): SGB is used successfully for many disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and painful syndromes like CRPS. Groysman, a leading SGB expert, discovered by accident that this procedure also works on long COVID symptoms. “I was treating a military veteran for PTSD. He also had long COVID and we saw an immediate resolution of his olfactory symptoms with SGB,” he recalls.
SGB unsticks the gas pedal. In this outpatient procedure, the physician uses ultrasound as a guide to block the nerves used by the sympathetic nervous system to communicate between the head and the rest of the body. The entire process takes 10 to 15 minutes and is done without sedation. Taste and smell results are usually felt within five minutes.
“SGB can have a success rate of 80% or higher. But the success rate may be lower if it’s not done by an SGB expert.” He adds that symptom recovery is never 100%. It may be less if your body has been dealing with long COVID for a long time or you have underlying health conditions. “But it’s rare not to get any symptom relief from SGB.”
- TENS vagus nerve stimulation: The vagus nerve is essential to several body functions including breathing, heartbeat and digestion. It may become thickened with long COVID. TENS is a small unit that delivers electrical impulses to nerves. It is used normally to help with pain in sore muscles. We are repurposing this device for vagus nerve stimulation at the ear. While it will take a month or longer to get results, the benefits of TENS treatment are its low price and the fact that it can be done at home. “It will work for the majority of people, but you must use a very specific protocol to ensure you are stimulating the vagus nerve,” cautions Groysman. “It’s not as quick and effective as SGB, but generally you can do it for less than $50.”
If you suffer from long COVID, find ways to relax
Stress doesn’t cause long COVID but it can worsen symptoms because it engages the sympathetic nervous system (again, that fight-or-flight response). “There have been reports of people’s symptoms disappearing while they’re on vacation and returning when they go back to their everyday stressful lives,” comments Groysman. “While yoga, massages, and deep-breathing exercises are not cures, they may help.”
He also encourages patients to talk with a licensed mental health therapist to learn new coping mechanisms, especially if they don’t handle stress well. “It’s a vicious cycle. Good stress management is the only way to achieve permanence in any successful long COVID treatment.”
Where to find help and support
Even if you don’t currently have long-term COVID symptoms, it is smart to be prepared. “COVID is not going away. You still have a chance of developing it. While each variant will have different side effect profiles, long COVID issues will likely continue,” says Groysman.
He moderates a Facebook group to help educate people about their treatment options, and for long-haulers to share success stories. He has also written a free ebook with helpful tools and information. Links to both can be found on his website, www.ReliefBeginsHere.com.