Maritime medical experts share advice on how to treat COVID-19 symptoms at home, when to seek help
By the time singer Elise Besler started getting a scratchy throat Christmas Eve, she had already been isolating at home, after her husband tested positive.
“I started having a bit of tickle in my throat, and started doing the rapid tests,” she says.
Her husband experienced fever and body aches.
Besler’s symptoms were different and progressed over time.
“Scratchy throat, a little bit of a nagging dry cough,” she recalls.
“It wasn't until I started having nasal congestion that I tested positive and the nasal congestion for me was the worst.”
Their self-care in isolation included fluids, rest, and over-the-counter medications to reduce fever and mucus. Besler says the congestion did move into her chest.
The couple used fingertip pulse oximeters to measure their oxygen levels, as well, just in case.
Besler says they’re both fully vaccinated and felt fortunate they didn’t experience any serious breathing problems.
While there's no approved medication specifically to treat COVID-19 on drugstore shelves right now, Baddeck pharmacist Graham MacKenzie says there are options for treating milder cases at home.
“It’s all symptomatic the way it’s treated,” he says.
He recommends over the counter steroid sprays for nasal congestion, and anything with honey for coughs.
For body aches, “take acetaminophen or ibuprofen, assuming you’re okay to take that,” MacKenzie says.
Family and emergency physician Dr. John Gillis says many cases can be handled at home; especially as emergency departments are stretched to the limit.
“People are nervous, and I get that,” he says.
Dr. Gillis says he is seeing some headaches, sore throats, and even some GI symptoms, but typically less of the more severe respiratory symptoms.
“For the most part, people who are positive, what they need to do is stay home…in most cases they don’t need to come to the hospital,” he says.
But he stresses there are serious symptoms to be aware of that require immediate care, and he has seen those at the emergency department.
“What you want to watch for is really chest pain that's not resolving, particularly breathing issues, if someone is really dehydrated from gastrointestinal issues that's another reason probably but that's pretty rare," said MacKenzie.
“If you’re having extreme breathing difficulties, you’re having mobility problems, your lips are blue and your fingernails are blue… it’s time to realize that you have to go and either call 911 or contact your doctor and the outpatients’ department.”
For children, experts say many COVID-19 symptoms are similar to those in adults, including fever, sore throat, congestion, and cough.
“Children seem to have more vomiting and diarrhea than adults,” adds IWK pediatric emergency physician Dr. Katie Gardiner.
“Then sometimes can develop a rash.”
She says older children have also reported losing their sense of taste and smell.
Dr. Gardiner says treatment is about keeping kids comfortable, with over-the-counter medications for fever, plenty of fluids and rest.
She says a fever lasting more than five or six days is a red flag, as are dehydration and trouble breathing.
“And that might look like tugging of the muscles above your neck or tugging the muscles between the ribs,” says Dr. Gardiner.
“Or noticing that the belly is moving in and out really rapidly.”
Dr. Gardiner adds that she thinks it’s natural to feel scared.
“Most children won’t need emergency care, but if you’re worried about those red flags, we’re always open…and you can absolutely come [to the ED] if you are worried about those symptoms.”
Besler started feeling better this past weekend, although she still has fatigue.
Her advice to anyone who is sick at home is to reach out for help and emotional support from friends and family - even if it must be from a distance.
If you have COVID-19 symptoms, public health protocols in the Maritime provinces require a period of self-isolation. Those who are fully vaccinated need to isolate for at least seven days, until symptoms go away. Those who are unvaccinated are required to self-isolate for at least 10 days until symptoms end.
Anyone with concerns about symptoms can also call the provincial 811 health line, or their physician.