When to go to hospital with coronavirus

Alexandra Thompson
·4 min read
Speeding ambulance, London
The most recently available data show 2,642 people were admitted to hospital with the coronavirus in the UK on 29 January alone. (Stock, Getty Images)

Emerging variants mean coronavirus concerns are arguably as high as ever, despite Britons living with the outbreak for the best part of a year.

Lockdowns and similarly strict restrictions are showing signs of efficacy, however, cases are still worryingly high, with 16,840 new incidences in the UK on 2 February alone.

Early research suggests the coronavirus is mild in four out of five cases, however, the infection can trigger life-threatening complications like pneumonia or sepsis.

As the pandemic continues to unfold, the public should understand when coronavirus symptoms require hospital care.

Read more: 99% have coronavirus antibodies three months post-infection

Young woman wearing surgical mask in front of home
The coronavirus is said to be mild in four out of five cases, however, widespread face covering use is required to ward off severe incidences. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Around a third of people with the coronavirus are said to develop no symptoms.

For those who do feel unwell, the NHS defines common symptoms as a fever, persistent cough and loss of taste or smell.

Some have accused this list of being too limited, with the World Health Organization (WHO) considering fatigue a common symptom, while everything from a sore throat and headache, to rashes and muscle aches are deemed to be a less common sign of the infection.

The WHO classes serious symptoms as difficulty breathing or severe shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, and a loss of speech or movement.

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Dr David Atkinson, clinical lead at Treated.com, believes anything that leaves a patient “thinking they cannot cope” should be a sign to seek care.

“Should your symptoms get worse, start to cause you distress where you don’t think you can cope at home, or you are breathing harder or faster than usual when you are sitting or lying down, then you should seek medical advice,” he told Yahoo UK.

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When someone tests positive for the coronavirus, and does not require immediate medical support, the WHO recommends “the use of pulse oximetry to measure oxygen levels in the blood”.

“This needs to be co-ordinated with other aspects of home care, such as education for the patient and care provider and regular follow-up of the patient,” it added.

Pulse oximeters – which clip onto the finger – measure how fast a patient’s heart is beating and the amount of oxygen in their blood, which indicates the efficiency of their breathing.

These may be handed out by a GP or purchased from a pharmacy. With each device varying, read the instructions carefully and ask a healthcare professional for advice, if needed.

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“The amount of oxygen in our blood should be at least 95%,” Dr Dawn Harper, a GP working with Healthspan, told Yahoo UK.

“If saturations fall below 95%, this is called hypoxia and causes an individual to become short of breath; but this isn’t always the case with coronavirus and experts have discovered patients with COVID-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus] can have lower saturations without feeling short of breath.

“In this scenario, however, the individual is at significant risk of becoming seriously unwell.

“If your oxygen level is 95% or more, this is a good result and you don’t need to take further action.

“If it is 93% or 94%, you should rest and wait for 10 minutes before repeating the test. If it remains at this level, you should contact your GP or phone 111 for medical advice.”

Regardless of whether someone has a known coronavirus infection, seek urgent help if they:

  • Collapse or lose consciousness

  • Develop blue skin or lips

  • Cough up blood

  • Become confused

  • Have a severe reduction in urine output

  • Are difficult to wake

  • Develop clammy or mottled skin that feels cold to touch

While doctors and officials alike have warned the NHS is under intense pressure, Dr Atkinson stressed: “The emergency services are still available to call upon.”

Just like before the pandemic, call 999 if someone is bleeding heavily, has chest pain or shows signs of a stroke; namely facial weakness, an inability to move the limbs and a loss of speech.

Watch: What is long COVID?