As more people around the globe are infected with COVID-19, researchers are discovering the virus manifests itself very differently in some patients. Most of us have heard this strain of coronavirus commonly comes with the symptoms of dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath, but many medical professionals feel it’s time to lengthen that list. Brad Sellers, DO, medical director of the emergency department at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, is one of them.
“The craziest thing about the coronavirus is that anything is on the table,” Dr. Sellers says. “We have to assume that anyone that comes into the hospital may have it. That’s how prevalent it has become.”
In fact, Dr. Sellers points out that many patients are completely asymptomatic. Other patients have symptoms not currently listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here are a few you may not be aware of:
1. A loss of smell
Dr. Sellers says COVID-19 first hits the nose and back of the throat.
“Inflammation of the nasal passages caused by a viral infection can lead to congestion,” Dr. Sellers explains. “So, it’s no surprise that loss of smell or even taste is an early, though unexpected, symptom of coronavirus.”
Viral infections are actually the leading cause of lost sense of smell, known medically as anosmia, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
The academy reports that a group of otolaryngologists in the U.K. found that 2 out of 3 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Germany reported a lost of sense of smell and 30% of people in South Korea with mild symptoms who tested positive for COVID-19 reported anosmia as their main symptom.
2. Digestive problems
The CDC doesn’t list digestive issues as primary symptoms of COVID-19, but research published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology suggests it can be an early sign of the illness in some patients.
“The most interesting thing we’ve seen in some patients is nausea and diarrhea,” Dr. Sellers says. “It’s tricky because when patients experience this, they don’t think of COVID-19. These patients will think they’re fine and go to places like normal when, in reality, they’re sick.”
In the small study of 204 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in the Hubei province of China, researchers noted that nearly 49% of these patients presented to the emergency department with gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain.
3. Pink eye
Research from China, South Korea, and other parts of the world indicate that about 1% to 3% of people with COVID-19 had pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis.
Pink eye is typically caused by a viral or bacterial infection. When you are sick, you can spread the infection to your eye through physical contact, such as sneezing into your hand and then rubbing your eye. This is also true for the COVID-19 virus. This is why health officials recommend that you wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face.
“I have learned something new each day during this pandemic,” Dr. Sellers says. “The coronavirus knocks the trends of what we expected.”
Dr. Sellers says there are some fairly uncommon symptoms that seem to be specific to elderly patients. He points out confusion and fatigue in older patients can be written off as normal, but not anymore.
“Elderly people will many times present with disorientation or generalized malaise, but not necessarily cough and fever like we do with the younger population,” Dr. Sellers says. “This is something to pay special attention to.”
Researchers have discovered that in Washington State nursing homes, an early U.S hotspot for the virus, some COVID-19 patients displayed no symptoms except for confusion and general fatigue. Because they didn’t have a fever or cough, staffers initially thought they were negative for the coronavirus.