COVID-19 and IPF, Round 2: Here’s What Happened
No one will ever convince me that COVID-19 is just a cold. Unfortunately, I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by healthy friends since the start of the pandemic as a means of downplaying public health measures meant to curb the spread of the virus. But having had COVID-19 twice now, I’ll never liken it to a cold.
Many people infected with omicron, along with various sources, reported that this variant was a milder strain of COVID-19. For lots of people, I’m sure this was true. However, for my circle of friends in the rare disease community, and for me, a patient with a life-threatening lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), omicron was a terrible experience.
I had COVID-19 in late April 2020, and while that experience was unpleasant, it hasn’t compared with how awful omicron has been for me this time around. I’m on day 11 since initially testing positive for the virus, and while I’m no longer contagious, I’m still dealing with pretty severe symptoms.
Omicron is different
As I understand, previous variants of COVID-19 affected the lower respiratory tract, which would be more dangerous for someone with IPF, in theory. Omicron, however, is an upper respiratory virus, which tricked me into thinking my lungs would be spared. This unfortunately wasn’t the case while my oxygen levels were being monitored in the hospital, as they would plummet when I walked around with a pulse oximeter attached to my finger.
While hypoxia, or a lack of tissue oxygenation, is a concern, I’m used to shortness of breath and low oxygen levels. What I’m not used to is the pain omicron caused in my sinuses and, subsequently, the intense headaches and facial swelling.
I’ve heard many people with omicron complain of headaches. In fact, in the early days following my exposure to the virus, one of my nurses told me that her COVID-19 headache was the worst she’d ever experienced. I believe her. After 11 days, I was back in the emergency room receiving an IV infusion of a steroid to try to alleviate the headache and sinus pressure at the recommendation of my family doctor.
With omicron being an upper respiratory virus, my doctor said he’s seeing an increase in acute sinus issues like sinusitis. In my case, the sinus infection is viral (as opposed to bacterial), which means that antibiotics and nasal sprays likely won’t fix the issue. We tried them anyway because I’m desperate for relief.
I was also prescribed two steroids, prednisone and dexamethasone, which brought the headache pain down, but didn’t get rid of it. After trying all these prescription remedies, I had what I’d call an adult temper tantrum; I could no longer cope with the sinus pain and subsequent headaches I was having as a result of this virus, and was at my tolerance threshold.
I began trying everything else I could think of, such as sinus rinses, nasal lubricants, alternating between Tylenol and Advil, and drinking tons of fluids. Quality sleep is also important for patients with IPF, so I tried to ensure I was getting enough rest. But being chronically under-oxygenated leaves me tired when I’m not battling COVID-19, so I actually worried about oversleeping.
All my efforts brought minimal relief to the pain caused by this stubborn virus.
By the time this column is published, it will have been a full two weeks since I tested positive for the omicron variant. I had a doctor’s appointment this morning, and he believes I am on the upswing and that my sinus and headache pain should soon subside. Following the relief of the acute pain I’ve been dealing with, I’ll have my pulmonary function reevaluated to ensure there isn’t further long-term lung damage from COVID-19.
Reflecting on this experience leaves me both emotional and frustrated. I think to myself, why would anyone take the chance of contracting this, even if you might not get it as bad as I did? Based on my experience, no one will ever convince me that COVID-19 is just a cold, and I will be abiding by public health restrictions for a long time to come.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.