Another day brings another round of possible new coronavirus symptoms, this time involving unusual sensory experiences.
There’s no definitive explanation for these reports as of now, but it’s likely a patient’s immune response, including a high fever — rather than the virus itself — would cause such sensations, said Dr. Waleed Javaid, director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York.
“There’s a widespread immune response that is happening. Our immune cells get activated so a lot of chemicals get released throughout our body and that can present or feel like there’s some fizzing,” Javaid told TODAY.
“When our immune response is acting up, people can feel different sensations… I have heard of similar experiences in the past with other illnesses.”
Such sensations are not a common symptom of COVID-19 and are not listed as warning signs by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.
Dr. Arthur Gran, an infectious disease specialist at St. Peter's Health Partners in Troy, New York, said he didn’t see any specific reason why the new coronavirus itself would cause such symptoms.
“There’s still much we have to learn about it but it’s not really a neurologic virus, although if people are having symptoms of smell and taste changes — those are the nerves in brain — so it’s not impossible that people might have changes in nerve sensations,” Gran said.
“I have a feeling that it’s not a new manifestation. I think it’s probably people are describing variances in the known clinical manifestations of this virus.”
The unusual sensations appear to be mostly reported by outpatients who otherwise are healthy and able to notice subtle changes in their bodies — not people who have had to be hospitalized for a severe form of the illness, Javaid added. That said, if doctors see more reports of such cases, they would likely get more scrutiny, he noted.
In general, a tingling or numb feeling in the skin is a sign that a nerve is irritated and sending extra signals, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.
Other coronaviruses that affect humans can invade the central nervous system, so it makes sense COVID-19 may have neurologic manifestations, Dr. Kenneth Tyler, chair of neurology at University of Colorado School of Medicine, told Neurology Today, a publication of the American Academy of Neurology.
Indeed, a study published in JAMA Neurology Friday found neurologic symptoms were seen in 36% of 214 COVID-19 patients in China, including dizziness, headache, and taste and smell impairment.
Still, a tingling feeling in itself would not strongly point to a diagnosis of coronavirus and the decision on whether to test for it should be based on spectrum of symptoms, Gran said.
“There’s a hundred different reasons for a tingling sensation,” Javaid added. For anyone who was concerned, he advised making a note of it and seeing if the sensation went away on its own.
If someone had a confirmed case of COVID-19, the presence of such symptoms wouldn’t be much of a factor in how bad the infection might be and what the chances of recovering were, Gran noted.
“The most important thing to watch for is the development of respiratory problems,” he warned, since those are most likely to be associated with severe disease and need for hospitalization.