These symptoms could indicate a range of issues going on inside your body, otherwise invisible to the naked eye. They could mean a dramatic drop in blood oxygen levels, pulmonary embolism, severe lung damage, or any number of other serious conditions that can only be addressed with immediate care at a hospital.
However, while these may be considered the benchmarks for a true COVID emergency, you shouldn't put off getting care if your condition is moderate to severe. Experts suggest that delaying medical attention can lead to a worse prognosis, and that all COVID patients should be checking in with their medical providers by phone or video calls to monitor the case.
That said, knowing the emergency signs of COVID could literally save your life in the event that your condition worsens quickly. Read on for the five symptoms the Mayo Clinic says can warrant a 911 call, and for more on emergency COVID symptoms, check out If You Have One of These COVID Symptoms, the CDC Says to Call 911.
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While respiratory symptoms are considered par for the course for the novel coronavirus, most patients don't experience truly labored breathing. If you notice shortness of breath that persists and worsens over time, contact your doctor immediately.
Not sure if your breathing difficulty merits a 911 call? While you should never hesitate to pick up the phone and call for help if you think you need it, you can also monitor your oxygen saturation levels at home with a pulse oximeter. These finger monitors, which are available at most drug stores, may help you to distinguish between minor shortness of breath and a more serious problem.
Persistent chest pain or pressure
COVID has a track record of triggering a whole host of heart problems in patients—especially in those with underlying conditions. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, roughly 40 percent of COVID related deaths are the result of a cardiac failure.
For this reason, you should always take any persistent chest pain or pressure seriously by calling emergency services. And for more on serious COVID symptoms, check out The "Really Disturbing" Long COVID Symptom Doctors Want You to Prepare For.
Inability to stay awake
While fatigue is one of the most common symptoms across COVID cases, a true inability to stay awake should never be ignored. Any time a person loses consciousness—regardless of whether COVID-19 is known or suspected—you need to call for emergency assistance.
In the case of coronavirus, this could indicate a wide range of causes including a lack of oxygen to the brain, blood clots, delirium, multiple organ failure, and many more.
Confusion, delirium, or worsened symptoms of dementia are symptoms that are estimated to affect 20 to 30 percent of hospitalized COVID patients and 70 percent of critically ill patients. This serious complication is associated with a poorer prognosis and should always be met with immediate medical assistance.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, COVID-induced confusion can present in two totally different ways, depending on type. "Hyperactive delirium is the overactive form in which a patient can be aggressive and restless, sometimes suffering delusions or hallucinations," the clinic explains on its website. "Hypoactive delirium is the underactive form in which patients may appear sleepy, slow to respond and are withdrawn, not communicating with others." And for more on surprising COVID symptoms, check out If This Part of Your Body Hurts, You Could Have COVID.
Blue lips or face
Having blue lips or a blue face could be a clear clue that your oxygen is plummeting. According to Prevention, this condition is called cyanosis, and it occurs when your red blood cells are deprived of oxygen. "Under normal circumstances, your red blood cells provide oxygen to tissues in your body," the publication explains. "Those blood cells are bright red and they can make your skin look pinkish or red, in the case of your lips where the skin is thin. But blood that doesn't have enough oxygen is dark bluish-red. As a result, people whose blood oxygen levels are low can have a bluish color to their skin and lips."