Tanya Lewis: Hello, and welcome COVID, soona Scientific American a series of podcasts.
Josh Fishman: This is your quick update on A pandemic of covanvirus covid infection. We introduce you to the science behind the most pressing issues about the virus and the disease. We demystify the study and help you understand what it means.
Lewis: I’m Tanya Lewis.
Fishman: I’m Josh Fishman.
Lewis: And we Scientific American‘s senior health editors. Today: how to take care of yourself if you get sick at home on COVID …
Fishman: And how to find out if only a spring allergy sneezes, not a virus?
Lewis: These days I hear all the time about people who have COVID and ride at home. If you have a relatively easy case, what should you do to take care of yourself?
Fishman: More and more people find themselves in this situation. The the average daily number of new cases is growing, from about 50,000 in late April to just over 80,000 today. But far fewer people end up in the hospital. Less than 20,000 at the end of last week.
Lewis: That is more people with COVID take care of themselves at homeisn’t it
Fishman: Yes. So, what is the best way to do this? What helps with symptoms? How do you feel about isolation? I asked Scientific American editor Lydia Denworth to figure this out. She spoke to several doctors treating COVID, and gave some good advice.
LewisA: Although we call these cases mild, people say it’s often like two weeks of the worst flu you can imagine, with a fever and a bad cough.
Fishman: True. So, first of all, pay attention to your symptoms. Timothy Brewer, an epidemiologist with UCLA, told Lydia that there is a wide range, but many are affecting the upper respiratory system. This is where Omicron and its sub-variants like to repeat. Thus, less inflammation of the chest and lungs and more sore throat and congestion. Soreness, cough, shortness of breath and fever are also common.
Lewis: I probably would like to check myself if I get sick. Should I use a rapid antigen test?
Fishman: Definitely. These symptoms can look like severe allergies or the flu, so experts say use an antigen test after symptoms appear. If the first test is negative, do it again in two days. If the virus builds up inside you, a second test will probably pick it up.
LewisA: Okay, so I’m positive and I feel positively awful. Time to call my doctor?
FishmanA: Not everyone has a primary care doctor, but if there is, call your own. They can advise you medication. They will also inform the health authorities so that you are included in the number of cases.
Lewis: After that, is there anything in my first aid kit that can help me?
FishmanA: Possibly or without a prescription at your local pharmacy. Conventional medications do not fight the virus, but they do cope with the symptoms. Acetaminophen reduces fever and relieves pain. Just do nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. Antihistamines or cold medications, such as DayQuil, relieve congestion and cough.
Lewis: However, people should be careful with NSAIDs. They have more side effects than acetaminophen and they are not safe for everyone. I know the instructions on the label are written in small print, but it would be good to read them. You may need to consult your doctor if you are also taking other medications.
Fishman: Sometimes I take a picture of a label on my cell phone and blow it up. It helps.
Another thing that really helps: good old TLC. Rest and drink a liquid that prevents dehydration and reduces cough. Hot tea with honey also relieves sore throat and cough.
Lewis: What about prescription drugs such as the new Paxlovid antiviral pill?
FishmanA: It helps if you start taking it early. But it’s not for everyone. You cannot use it with many common medications such as statins or blood thinners. Some monoclonal antibodies also reduce the risk of serious disease, but they require injection or infusion. And not every patient is right. Both treatments have been allowed for people who are at greater risk of serious illness due to age (65 years and older) or underlying diseases such as high blood pressure or lung disease. So far, there is no evidence that these treatments benefit people who are young or otherwise healthy.
Lewis: What will happen if you live alone? Many people do, some young and some older. Staying alone with COVID can be scary.
FishmanA: I know, and if you don’t have a partner who would deal with drugstores and products, it’s really hard. The brewer says it’s wise to arrange for someone to call you once a day to check. Signing up can reduce anxiety and loneliness because you are isolated for at least five days. Friends and family should not get close physically, but they may refuse food or tylenol and other over-the-counter medications. And some books, magazines or TV shows to fill the time.
LewisA: So you do this within 5 days of symptoms and a positive test. Then, if you feel better, you can go outside, but you should wear a high quality mask, such as the N95, and do it for another 5 days. It’s only 10 days. Are there any signals during this period that may make you seek medical attention?
Fishman: Great question. Doctors told Lydia that the important thing to watch out for is serious breathing problems. Chest pain, blue lips if you can’t swallow fluids or air out after taking a few steps in your bedroom – all reasons to call an ambulance or call 911. Most people don’t face such problems, but feel free seek help if you do.
LewisA: Josh, it was a severe allergy season. I find myself sniffing and sneezing all the time, and sorting through more boxes of napkins than I want to admit. But given all the COVID that revolves around, I constantly feel paranoid that the virus has finally found me. Of course, the only way to know for sure if you have COVID is a positive test. But tests are not always available, and a positive result on a rapid test may take several days, even if you already have symptoms.
FishmanA: It seems to be a severe allergy season. How to distinguish COVID from allergies?
Lewis: In fact, this question was asked to experts by freelancer Marian Lenara history we published recently. The symptoms are quite similar: nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, coughing, headaches and fatigue. But there are some pretty key differences.
Fishman: Fever is one of them, right?
LewisA: This is not a common trait of allergies, so this is one gift. Another is the sudden and severe loss of sense of smell. This was a common feature for earlier coronavirus variants, but less common with Omicron. However, allergies are unlikely to lead to a complete loss of odor. And watery, swollen eyes are common with allergies, but less common with COVID.
Fishman: It’s useful. So, if I have a fever or other symptoms that are less common with allergies, should I take a COVID test?
Lewis: Yes. It is also important to think about your body and the context in which you have symptoms. Like, if you just mowed the lawn and started sneezing, it’s probably an allergy. But if you recently attended an event in a room where 200 people were talking out loud, it could be COVID.
Fishman: Do we know anything about whether people with allergies are more susceptible to COVID?
Lewis: At first, scientists were concerned that people with allergic asthma are more likely to have COVID and have a severe case – something that can happen with the flu. But the study is published in the journal Chest found the opposite that people with allergic asthma may be in below risk of COVID infection than other people. Some studies show that people with allergic asthma have lower levels of receptors for the virus that causes COVID.
Fishman: This is good news. Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves from both COVID and allergies?
Lewis: Put on the mask! It can rid you of powdery mildew – or worse.
Lewis: Now you know. Thank you for joining us. The editor of our program is Tulik Bose.
Fishman: Come back in two weeks to the next episode of COVID, Coming Soon! And check SciAm.com for updated and in-depth COVID news.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]