This Strange Symptom Could Be a Sign of Omicron, Doctors Warn
Studies have found that it can also be felt as part of "long COVID" in some cases.
The spread of the Omicron variant has led to an unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases across the U.S. Fortunately, data appears to show that the virus is less likely to cause severe illness or death in those it infects—especially those who are vaccinated and boosted. But even though the virus is still producing some of the familiar signs it has since the beginning of the pandemic, doctors are also noticing that one lesser-known symptom of Omicron might be getting overlooked. Read on to see what could be a red flag for infection with COVID-19.
Dizziness or lightheadedness could be a symptom of Omicron.
One of the more difficult challenges posed by COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic has been understanding how it can affect people differently. Now, doctors are citing dizziness or lightheadedness as a symptom of Omicron that can get overlooked compared to other signs of infection.
Health officials have pointed out that mounting research shows the symptom has been reported in patients. An article published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health says that "countless studies" globally have found the virus to cause it.
"We would like to emphasize that dizziness should not be taken lightly as it has been proven to be a notable clinical manifestation among COVID-19 patients," the authors wrote. "It is imperative that attending physicians remain vigilant, especially when managing nonspecific symptoms such as dizziness, as it can be easily overlooked."
Health officials say the symptom feels like a "sensation of spinning."
While it may not be as easy to spot as a cough or sore throat, health officials say the symptom is often noticeable. According to the National Health Service (NHS) in the U.K., the kind of dizziness caused by COVID-19 is described as "a sensation of spinning or an altered sense of motion often called vertigo," while lightheadedness was like "feeling as if you might faint." The agency says that both can make you feel "slightly off-balance" and could be felt "during the acute phase of the infection, during recovery, or as part of Long COVID symptoms."
The symptom is common with other respiratory infections as well.
Experts explain that COVID-19 can cause inflammation in the sinuses and inner ear, similar to other respiratory diseases. This affects the body's vestibular system, which the brain uses to control balance. "If an ear infection develops or the Eustachian tube that connects the ears with the back of the throat becomes blocked, it can cause feelings of dizziness," Christine Greiss, MD, director of the Concussion Program at the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute, told Hackensack Meridian Health in an interview.
The NHS suggests that anyone who notices dizziness as a symptom of COVID-19 should move slowly when going from a lying position to seated to standing, taking a minute or two to help the sensation pass before attempting to get up. The agency also advises that anyone with persistent or worsening symptoms, unexplained fainting or falls, a constant ringing in the ears known as tinnitus, or a loss of hearing should schedule an appointment with their healthcare provider.
Your other Omicron symptoms will likely be affected by your vaccination status.
Beyond experiencing dizziness, the way the Omicron variant manifests in patients appears to differ between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Maya N. Clark-Cutaia, PhD, a professor at the New York University Meyers College of Nursing, told The New York Times that vaccinated patients who get infected with Omicron tend to complain more often of headaches, body aches, and fever, describing the symptoms "like a really bad cold." On the other hand, shortness of breath, cough, and other common flu-like symptoms are only really hitting unvaccinated individuals infected with this variant.
Craig Spencer, MD, the director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at New York-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center, said that people who have been boosted also might experience sore throat, while those with two doses might also get fatigued and experience some coughing. "But no shortness of breath. No difficulty breathing," he tweeted on Dec. 26.
Loss of smell and taste are less common symptoms with Omicron across the board. But those with breakthrough cases might also be missing one formerly tell-tale COVID sign: fever. "I think what we are experiencing, though, is for people who are vaccinated, or vaccinated and boosted, we're not seeing as much fever, if any, as opposed to an unvaccinated person," Judith O'Donnell, MD, the chief of infectious disease at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.