“Calm down, Karen. It’s just allergies.”
I saw this shirt on Facebook and laughed out loud. My three-year-old daughter has seasonal allergies and a constant runny nose. I’m always saying, “It’s just allergies,” but I’ve been more cautious this summer. I wasn’t laughing when my family had to self-quarantine because someone we had close contact with found out they had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
My story is not unique. It’s no longer uncommon. Before COVID-19, regular cold and flu symptoms were easy to ignore and brush off. But, during this global pandemic, we can’t assume that a cough is just a cough, or that a fever is a result of some other rational reason. We must be in tune with our bodies and our health, monitor the slightest changes, and take them seriously.
“Within your family unit, everyone has to be extra cautious and in tune to watching for new symptoms, and recognize if we notice something different,” says OhioHealth emergency medicine physician Ryan Squier, MD. “Be as responsible as you can within your own home.”
COVID-19 symptoms that need emergency medical care
By now, you likely know the common symptoms of COVID-19. It’s important to stay up to date, because new symptoms continue to emerge, such as nausea and vomiting. And some of the symptoms are emergencies, so you need to know how to spot them.
COVID-19 symptoms that require immediate medical attention can appear in people who don’t know they are infected, as well as those who have tested positive. If you notice these less-common, but critical, symptoms, seek care or call 911 right away. If they aren’t addressed, they can lead to severe respiratory problems, kidney failure or even death.
Emergency symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
“Most patients that we see in the emergency department and are diagnosed with COVID-19 are safe to discharge home, and manage through outpatient care. Though, it is essential that these patients be aware if they experience worsening or different symptoms later,” says Squier. “If you’re at home, having trouble breathing, experiencing pressure in the chest, or one of these other signs – don’t delay care.”
Squier recommends purchasing a pulse oximeter to check your oxygen saturation. He says it should read between 95–100%. If it dips below 90%, seek care.
Monitoring the health of loved ones
It’s easier to spot changes in our own bodies than it is in others. You can’t see a headache. You can’t hear a cough through a text message. You may not detect breathing difficulties on a FaceTime call with your mom. But, you can ask probing questions of family members and friends to ensure they’re feeling alright, without being overbearing.
Try these conversation starters during your next interaction with loved ones that may be more at risk for COVID-19.
- What did you do today? Get a feel for how active they’ve been, and whether they seem to be living life as usual or there are significant changes. Also listen to their words, sentences and stories for any cues of confusion.
- How have you been staying active? Listen for signs of difficulty getting moving or quick exhaustion. If they express any challenges, ask more specifically how their breathing is.
- What has your sleep schedule been like? Listen for signs of difficulty getting out of bed and severe fatigue.
If you have the ability to do a video call or a safe, in-person visit, watch for visible signs of illness and address them immediately if you’re concerned.
Squier also wants to elevate awareness of mental health concerns related to COVID-19. He says to look and listen for any signs that support may be needed, such as heightened anxiety, trouble sleeping or depression.
“Decreased personal contact is a real issue right now,” says Squier. “If we know of someone who is at risk for mental health issues, it’s important that we attempt to connect and check in on them often.”
Dr. Squier also mentions the importance of checking in through phone call or video chat on someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and is in quarantine, as mental health challenges can arise in this environment as well.
If you or someone you know is in mental distress, the Ohio Department of Health recommends calling the National Disaster Distress Helpline at 1 (800) 985.5990 or texting TalkWithUs to 66746. The helpline is open 24/7.
And if you or your loved ones need medical attention for other symptoms, contact your doctor or find an OhioHealth doctor nearby.
About the author
Stefanie Ragase is an experienced healthcare marketing and communications manager at OhioHealth with a professional focus in neuroscience, and a personal passion for health and wellness. Her job is to connect people to the right resources at the right time throughout their wellness journey. She brings a unique perspective to her neuroscience communications role as a care partner for her father, a stroke survivor, and her younger sister who lives with multiple sclerosis. Stefanie is a mom to 3-year-old Nora and lives in Lewis Center with her husband, Trey.