COVID-19 symptoms have now become more mild and are nearly indistinguishable from allergies or the common cold, often affecting the upper respiratory tract, a number of doctors have said.
They note that some of the notable COVID-19 symptoms, including a cough or a loss of taste or smell, are less common among patients.
“It isn’t the same typical symptoms that we were seeing before. It’s a lot of congestion, sometimes sneezing, usually a mild sore throat,” Dr. Erick Eiting, vice chair of operations for emergency medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai, told NBC News on Sept. 16.
“Just about everyone who I’ve seen has had really mild symptoms,” Dr. Eiting said, referring to urgent care COVID-19 patients. “The only way that we knew that it was COVID was because we happened to be testing them.”
A study published in The Lancet shows that symptoms for COVID-19 have become milder since the omicron variant emerged and supplanted the delta variant in late 2021. Hospital admissions have also declined since then, along with initial symptoms such as a loss of taste or smell, according to the paper.
“The SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern, omicron, appears to be less severe than delta,” the abstract states, noting that there has been a “lower rate of hospital admission during omicron prevalence than during delta prevalence.”
Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told NBC News that the mild symptoms are, in part, due to previous immunity.
“Overall, the severity of COVID is much lower than it was a year ago and two years ago. That’s not because the variants are less robust. It’s because the immune responses are higher,” the doctor said.
Several doctors who spoke to the network said COVID-19 now commonly starts with a sore throat.
Dr. Michael Daignault, an emergency physician in California, told the network that “especially since July, when this recent mini-surge started, younger people that have upper respiratory symptoms … 99 percent of the time they go home with supportive care.”
The upper respiratory tract includes the nose, nasal cavity, mouth, throat, and voice box. The lower respiratory tract includes the trachea, lungs, and bronchial tubes.
Dr. Grace McComsey, with Case Western University, said that with the onset of the sore throat, some COVID-19 patients had “a burning sensation like they never had, even with strep in the past.”
“Then, as soon as the congestion happens, it seems like the throat gets better,” she said, estimating that about 10 to 20 percent of patients lose their sense of taste or smell now.