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Got Omicron? These COVID-19 symptoms are a sign you should get to a hospital


When should you go to the hospital? Signs of trouble include difficulty breathing chest pain or pressure and feeling so sick you can’t care for yourself

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Emergency rooms are seeing high numbers of people with symptoms of COVID, but doctors say most won’t end up needing to be in hospital.

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Most people with a COVID infection can recover at home. “If you are otherwise healthy and vaccinated, this will likely be a relatively minor illness and nuisance for you: from almost no symptoms, to a cold, to something that is more achy in nature,” Toronto infectious diseases physician Dr. Andrew Morris writes in a recent issue of his COVID newsletter .

With Omicron, the most common mild symptoms include a fever (38 degrees Celsius or higher), cough, congestion, muscle aches or tiredness, headache and sore throat. Loss of taste and smell seems less common this time around than with earlier variants. Doctors recommend rest, staying hydrated, and taking over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and aches if needed.

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Older people with other medical conditions like obesity, lung or liver disease or diabetes, as well as the immunocompromised may benefit from early treatment to prevent them from getting sicker or needing hospitalization, “so getting a diagnosis is important, and you should seek medical attention,” Morris wrote. Treatment options for people at increased risk include budesonide, an inhaled steroid and commonly used asthma drug, the anti-depressant fluvoxamine that also has anti-inflammatory properties and an IV infusion of monoclonal antibodies that can prevent mild and moderate COVID from becoming severe, though there are some shortages.

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When should you go to the hospital? If you feel any distress, go to the nearest emergency department or call 911. Signs of trouble include difficulty breathing when you stand up or move around, chest pain or pressure, feeling gradually more unwell or breathless, shaking or shivering, loss of appetite, dizziness, collapsing or fainting, or feeling so sick you can’t care for yourself.

Other symptoms to watch for: a significant or worsening cough, confusion, extreme sleepiness and low oxygen levels. Oxygen level in the blood — oxygen saturation — can be measured using a pulse oximeter, a small device that clips to a finger. One of the triggers for going to hospital is when levels drop to 92 per cent in an otherwise healthy person.

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Trust your instincts, and if symptoms worsen contact your doctor or health-care provider immediately. “Some symptoms may be signals that more urgent medical care is needed,” says the World Health Organization . Symptoms may look different, depending on age. “Adults may look dehydrated, have shortness of breath or chest pains. They may also complain of light-headedness.”

It’s rare for children or babies to develop severe illness from COVID, but on Wednesday, two Ontario paediatric hospitals reported that, since the middle of December, they have admitted a total of six babies under a year old because of a COVID infection. “We are seeing COVID (positive) babies of unvaccinated moms, who themselves are at increased risk of severe disease,” CHEO paediatric infectious diseases physician Dr. Nisha Thampi tweeted . “It’s hard to explain that their young infants would have had some protection against COVID if they had been vaccinated during pregnancy.”

With children, signs to watch for include children suddenly appearing confused or refusing to eat. “Their face or lips may turn blue. Babies may be unable to breastfeed. These symptoms are warning signs that urgent care is needed,” according to WHO.

Sources: Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, Ottawa Public Health, NHS England

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