The Omicron variant of Covid has been found to cause a much more diverse array of symptoms than previous strains, with some people suffering some unusual side effects.
Covid infections in the UK have recently jumped by more than half a million in the UK, as the newest BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants continue to spread.
These strains now make up the majority of new cases across the country and while health experts say there is “currently no evidence” that they can cause more serious symptoms than previous variants, people are being urged to be cautious.
Omicron can cause symptoms that are similar to the common cold, with a runny nose, headache and sneezing among the most reported effects.
The NHS recently added nine new Covid symptoms to its official list more than two years into the pandemic, extending the list from just three to 12 symptoms in total.
The extension now recognises a sore throat, fatigue, headache and a runny nose, among others, as key signs of infection, and expands on previous warnings from health experts calling for an extended list to refelt the wider array of symptoms people have been reported as new variants have emerged.
The NHS notes that many of the symptoms are very similar to those caused by other illnesses, such as a cold or flu, and while cold-like symptoms are very common with Omicron, there are some other unusual warning signs that could also indicate infection - includng three that show on your skin.
After adding to the list of symptoms, the NHS website highlights: “The symptoms are very similar to symptoms of other illnesses, such as colds and flu.”
What effect does Omicron have on the skin?
Some people who have tested positive for Omicron have reported getting three different types of skin rashes. These include hives, prickly heat and chilblains, all of which can cause the skin to become red and itchy.
Hives can occur in different shapes and sizes, but will usually cause raised spots and red patches to appear on the skin, and can occur anywhere on the body.
The rashes will often be itchy and can sometimes cause a stinging sensation.
It will usually settle down within a few minutes to a few days, and can be treated at home with antihistamine tablets.
Also known as a heat rash, prickly heat causes small raised spots to develop on the skin, which can appear slightly swollen and cause an itchy rash.
It can appear anywhere on the body and in some cases the spots may be filled with fluid.
To treat it, try to keep your skin cool by wearing loose cotton clothing, drink plenty of fluids and take cool baths or showers.
Applying a cold damp cloth, or an ice pack wrapped in a tea towel for up to 20 minutes can also help to calm the itching.
A pharmacist may also recommend applying calamine lotion to the affected area, or taking an antihistamine tablet.
Chilblains are small, itchy, red patches that can appear on your skin after you have been in the cold.
They usually affect your fingers and toes, but it is possible to get them on your face and legs as well.
It can cause your skin to feel itchy or like it’s burning, and the affected areas may become red or swollen.
Chilblains usually clear up on their own in two to three weeks, but you should speak to your GP if they do not go away.
Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen can help to ease the pain.
What other symptoms does Omicron cause?
The ZOE Covid study app has identified the following five symptoms as the most common signs of Omicron infection:
- a runny nose
- a headache
- a persistent cough
- a sore throat
- fatigue (mild and severe)
Findings suggest these signs often occur in the early stages of infection, so it is advised that people self-isolate at home if they feel unwell, or take a lateral flow test to confim if they have Covid.
Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, and leader of the ZOE Covid symptoms study, said: “A lot of the Omicron symptoms, the majority of them are looking like the common cold or some other viral illness, without any of the classic symptoms.
“So do be aware of the main ones. Unfortunately the government hasn’t yet taken this on board and are one of the only government’s in the world not to tell its citizens what the symptoms are.
“But they are runny nose, headache, sneezing, persistent cough and sore throat.
“They are the top five at the moment, so do keep any eye out for them and try not to infect anyone else.”
How long do Covid symptoms last?
Covid symptoms tend to last around five days on average, after which you should start to feel better. However, some can still feel the effects for several weeks or even months after infection.
While most people will make a full recovery within 12 weeks, those who have symptoms that last beyond this are considered to have ‘Long Covid’. The likelihood of developing long-term symptoms does not appear to be linked to how ill you are when you first get infected.
The most common symptoms of Long Covid include:
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- shortness of breath
- chest pain or tightness
- problems with memory and concentration (brain fog)
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- heart palpitations
- pins and needles
- joint pain
- depression and anxiety
- tinnitus, earaches
- feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
If you are still experiencing symptoms four weeks or more after having Covidand are worried, you should seek advice from your GP.