When should people seek emergency attention for COVID-19?

In a Nutshell

  • About 80% cases of COVID-19 are mild and can be managed at home
  • Seek emergency medical care if you are experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain, confusion, irritability, or signs of respiratory failure
  • Elderly and people with weak or compromised immune system are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms with COVID-19

Identifying Warning Signs

Data suggests that about 80% individuals who get infected with COVID-19 can be managed at home as symptoms are generally mild among young, healthy adults. However, a significant percentage of individuals who have pre-existing health issues or have compromised immune system may require hospitalization. It is important to identify the warning signs of infection so you can seek medical help in a timely fashion.

What should you do if you are suspecting/ diagnosed with COVID-19?

Per recommendations of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people who develop COVID-19 infection can be managed at home with supportive treatment (such as fever and flu management with over-the-counter drugs). If you or your loved ones have developed signs of infection or got in contact with someone who is diagnosed with COVID-19, follow these steps:

  • Stay at home and isolate yourself from family members and pets until infection subsides completely
  • Take ample rest and keep yourself hydrated with at least 10 cups of water per day
  • Stay in touch with a healthcare professional for medical advice
  • Monitor your symptoms (especially fever, respiratory distress)
  • Use over-the-counter drugs like Acetaminophen to manage fever and body aches
  • Do not leave the home unless you are visiting a healthcare professional
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water especially after sneezing, blowing your nose, before handling food and after using the restroom
  • Wear face mask even if you are at home so you can prevent transmission of infection to your loved ones

When should you seek emergency attention for COVID-19?

You should seek immediate medical help if you or your loved ones are showing following warning signs with COVID-19 infection:

  • Severe shortness of breath or troubled breathing
  • Feeling of constant pressure or pain in the chest
  • Recent onset confusion or irritability
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Bluish face or lips (suggestive of low tissue oxygenation)

If you are experiencing any other unusual symptom that is making you uncomfortable, speak to a healthcare provider. Before visiting the hospital or your healthcare provider, make sure to inform the emergency responder or healthcare professional that you are suspecting COVID-19 infection so necessary precautions can be taken.

Nuances/ Safety

The risk of respiratory distress (common complication of COVID-19) is highest among individuals who already have lung issues such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, lung failure, severe asthma etc.

In addition, following group of individuals are also at risk of complications and should be monitored very carefully:

  • Elderly (over the age of 60 years)
  • Obese (individuals with BMI of over 30 kg/m2)
  • People with history of heart disease or stroke
  • People with compromised immune functions such as history of transplantation, cancer, HIV infection and related issues

Strength of Evidence:A
Recommendations presented in this article are based of data obtained from latest clinical researches and surveys as advised by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Our Ruling:

Fortunately, most cases of COVID-19 are mild and resolve spontaneously without any treatment. However, seek immediate medical help if you have developed complications like respiratory difficulty, irritability, chest pain, or bluish discoloration of face and lips.

Our Sources:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#Symptoms-&-Emergency-Warning-Signs
  2. https://www.memorialhermann.org/everydaywell/health-wellness/er-for-covid-19/
  3. https://health.gov/news/202004/learn-when-seek-emergency-care-symptoms-not-related-covid-19
  4. https://www.centerforhealthjournalism.org/2020/03/26/when-should-you-seek-medical-care-covid-19-start-free-tool
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