Many cases of COVID-19 pass with minor (or even non-existent) symptoms. But in some people, coronavirus can develop into a medical emergency. How do you know when to treat symptoms at home, and when to head to urgent care or the ER or call 911? “If you have COVID-19 symptoms or you’ve been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, contact your doctor or clinic right away for medical advice,” says the Mayo Clinic, the nonprofit American academic medical center focused on integrated health care, education, and research. “Tell your health care team about your symptoms and possible exposure before you go to your appointment.” Mayo Clinic experts also say that if you have any of the following five emergency symptoms, you should seek medical care immediately—read on to see what they are, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
COVID-19 causes inflammation and damage in the lungs, which can lead to cough and shortness of breath. “In some people, COVID-19 causes more severe symptoms like high fever, severe cough, and shortness of breath, which often indicates pneumonia,” says Harvard Medical School. Serious trouble breathing could also be a sign of ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome), which can be fatal. If you find yourself breathing harder or having trouble getting air each time you exert yourself, call your doctor ASAP.
Chest pain has been reported by some people diagnosed with COVID-19. It may have a minor or very serious cause. “COVID-related strokes occur because of a bodywide increase in blood clot formation, which can damage any organ, not just the brain,” says Harvard Medical School. “A blood clot in the lungs is called pulmonary embolism and can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, or death; a blood clot in or near the heart can cause a heart attack.” If you experience chest pain, don’t hesitate to seek medical care.
Although feeling tired is a common response to any viral illness—the body wants to reserve as much energy as possible to fight off an invader—if you find yourself unable to wake up or stay awake, the CDC considers that a serious COVID symptom. You may be experiencing a low level of oxygen in the body, and that requires immediate medical attention.
Experts including the Mayo Clinic, CDC and Harvard Medical School advise that if you or someone you know experiences new confusion, it’s an emergency warning sign for COVID-19. It means you might be prone to a seizure or other neurological issues, and prompt medical care is necessary, the New York Times reported last year.
COVID can prevent your lungs from delivering necessary oxygen to the rest of the body. If your lips or face look bluish, it could be a sign that your body isn’t getting enough oxygen, which can be very serious. Our essential organs such as the heart, liver, lungs and kidneys depend on oxygen to function properly. A lack of oxygen can cause organ failure, which can be fatal.
Do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.