First, “anxiety-induced shortness of breath occurs quickly, seemingly out of the blue, while COVID-19 shortness of breath tends to develop gradually over a few days,” the researchers noted. And when shortness of breath comes from a panic attack, it usually happens when a person is at rest or trying to fall asleep.
In contrast, shortness of breath from COVID-19 “worsens with physical exertion, including performing simple daily activities like walking, climbing stairs or cleaning,” the researchers said.
COVID-19 shortness of breath is a real red flag that someone may need to see a doctor due to a dangerous drop in blood oxygen levels. “Blood oxygen levels can drop quickly with exertion, even in previously healthy people,” the team said.
Doctors can quickly monitor blood oxygen levels using a simple finger clip device called a pulse oximeter. Once COVID-19 shortness of breath has been diagnosed, these patients may be released to their homes, but will still require “very close monitoring and frequent monitoring to check how shortness of breath is progressing, and whether a patient may deteriorate and possibly need to go to the hospital, “said the team.
“Early recognition and proper triage is particularly important since, in the early days of infection, people infected with [the new coronavirus] may have symptoms that are indistinguishable from a variety of other acute viral and bacterial infections, “added Cohen.
Cohen’s team published their findings on April 20 in the Mayo Clinic proceedings newspaper. The study is based on more than 1,000 patients seen in a COVID-19 outpatient clinic in Boston.
Reading the new report, Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency doctor in New York, said the results “reflect the clinical picture of the patients I continue to see.”
Some patients come to his service at Lenox Hill Hospital without any drop in blood oxygen, but with “fatigue, muscle pain” [and] often a loss of smell, “said Glatter. These patients are still able to eat and drink and are generally sent home.
“There is also a subgroup of stable patients – with mild symptoms and mild hypoxia [low blood oxygen] – which, after careful evaluation, can be safely released and monitored at home with pulse oximetry and frequent telemedicine monitoring to check the progression of symptoms, “he added.