Can’t figure out if your cough is just a cough, or something more?
Cold weather and more transmissible subvariants have seen daily reported COVID-19 cases in Australia reach tens of thousands.
People all over the country are dealing with their second, third or fourth infection while also trying to navigate potential long COVID.
Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 symptoms, how children are being affected and what long COVID might look like for you.
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What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
COVID-19 symptoms can range from mild to severe — here are the symptoms the World Health Organization says to look out for:
Most common symptoms:
- Loss of taste or smell
Less common symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Aches and pains
- A rash on the skin
- Discolouration of fingers or toes
- Red or irritated eyes
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Loss of speech or mobility, or confusion
- Chest pain
Some people may experience symptoms that aren’t on this list. The ZOE Health Project, an ongoing surveillance study, says other commonly-reported symptoms include a runny nose and a hoarse voice.
However, some people with COVID-19 will have no symptoms at all. Estimates vary, but some reviews have found more than one in three cases will be asymptomatic.
If any severe symptoms are experienced, it is recommended to seek immediate medical attention.
Are Omicron symptoms different?
Omicron has overtaken Delta as the most prominent strain of COVID-19 in Australia.
While Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 have shown evidence of being more transmissible and cause less severe illness, the symptoms largely remain the same.
How long do COVID-19 symptoms last?
People with mild illness are considered to be recovered after seven days if they have been asymptomatic or have not developed any new symptoms during this time.
If a person develops more moderate health problems caused by COVID-19, symptoms most commonly continue for two to eight weeks after infection.
An April study by Kings College London found that Omicron symptoms may clear up two days sooner than Delta.
However, it is possible to remain contagious after symptoms subside and as such, the Australian government’s recommendation is still to isolate for seven days.
What are symptoms of long COVID?
Most mild COVID-19 cases will recover completely within a few weeks, however some may continue to experience symptoms months after diagnosis. This is often called post-COVID condition or long COVID.
A case is usually considered long COVID if symptoms persist 12 weeks after initial infection.
While research into the prevalence of long COVID in Australia is still in its infancy, it’s estimated that between 10 and 30 per cent of those infected with COVID-19 will experience long-term effects.
A statement from Professor Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer with the federal Health Department says that long COVID cases where symptoms are felt up to 12 months after infection are being observed.
These symptoms can include:
- Extreme tiredness
- Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain or tightness
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Changes to taste and smell
- Joint and muscle pain
What are COVID-19 symptoms in children?
According to Dr Brendan McMullan, paediatric infectious diseases specialist at Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, COVID-19 symptoms, particularly the Omicron strain, present the same in children as in adults.
“We see fever, runny nose, cough. Young children can be off their food or listless and lethargic. Children, like adults, can get headaches. Occasionally children can lose their taste and smell,” he said.
Children are also less likely to have symptoms, their symptoms are milder and they are less likely to develop severe illness.
Dr McMullan says that while a majority of children will have mild symptoms, there are a few more severe indicators parents should monitor for.
“There are more severe symptoms that can occur like difficulty breathing. We also see other respiratory type symptoms caused by Omicron including croup and bronchiolitis and those in particular that cause parents to seek medical care.”
One very rare complication with COVID in children is paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS-TS).
Around 120 children have been diagnosed since the beginning of the pandemic. Parents should be alert for a fever lasting more than three days in the two to six weeks after a COVID infection, especially if they also have a red eyes, rash and abdominal pain. These could possibly be symptoms of PIMS-TS.
For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, children under the age of five will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine with the Therapeutic Goods Administration announcing that Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine could safely be given to young children.
Are Omicron symptoms milder in children?
Mostly, according to Dr Sarah McNab, paediatrician and director of general medicine at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.
“It’s hard to absolutely be sure but COVID overall in children tends to [be milder]. It’s unusual to see children hospitalised with COVID,” she said.
“Some children will have no symptoms at all.”
Children aged 12-18 are also faring better with the Omicron wave than with previous strains.
“With previous strains, we saw a lot of teenagers that were particularly unwell with COVID, some of them needed intensive care support,” Dr McNab said.
“We very rarely see that now and we think that’s likely to be because of vaccination but may also reflect changes with this variant.”
Can COVID-19 cause myocarditis or cardiovascular disease?
COVID-19 has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
A peer-reviewed study published in the scientific journal Nature Medicine, which looked at a cohort of more than 5 million American veterans, found the increased risk of developing cardiovascular problems after a COVID-19 infection was “substantial”.
They found the risk was higher even after a mild infection, but got increasingly worse depending on the severity of the infection.
Last month, the US researchers shared the preliminary results of another study that found the risk of cardiovascular disease became higher after reinfections.
In this research group they found that the risk of cardiovascular disease increased after one infection, became higher with a second infection, and was highest in those who had been infected three times.
The researchers also found similar growing risks with each reinfection for other health issues like pulmonary disease, clotting and blood disorders, neurological disease, mental health problems, kidney disease, musculoskeletal disease and fatigue.
How to manage COVID 19 symptoms at home
Most of the time. COVID-19 cases with mild symptoms can be managed from home.
Queensland Health advises the following to manage these symptoms at home:
- Get lots of rest
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
- Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, like paracetamol or ibuprofen
If symptoms increase in severity it is recommended to seek medical attention.