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COVID-19: Omicron Variant Symptoms

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on


  • The first reported case of Omicron was confirmed in November 2021 in South Africa.
  • Omicron symptoms mostly affect the upper respiratory tract.
  • Omicron is currently the dominant variant of the coronavirus worldwide and is being watched meticulously by health organizations to monitor its impact on public health.
  • Omicron is easily transmissible, so it’s recommended to keep health measures in mind.

Omicron symptoms have been a cause of concern as this variant seems quite different from previous strains we’ve been in contact with. Although Omicron may cause milder symptoms than other variants, it’s still listed as a variant of concern due to its high transmissibility and the fact that it may still cause severe illness in some individuals. In this article, we’ll explore what is currently known about Omicron symptoms, its diagnosis, and the available treatment options. 

What causes Omicron symptoms?

The Omicron variant is a mutation of the coronavirus that is currently the dominant COVID-19 variant worldwide. Since its first identification in late 2021, many subvariants of Omicron have been detected, with subvariant XBB.1.5 being the global dominant and most contagious one as of April 2023. The variants of Omicron are being monitored closely by health organizations, as they transmit easily and rapidly and can cause severe symptoms. 1 2

The vaccines against the coronavirus offer protection against serious illness and death caused by the Omicron variant. However, as Omicron spreads at a rapid pace, it could put health services under immense pressure. 

What Do We Know About Omicron Subvariants?

Omicron subvariants have emerged rapidly as the dominant variant of COVID-19 worldwide. As of September 2023, even 99.9% of all variants currently circulating in the USA are mutations of the Omicron strain. To reduce the impact on global health, the WHO is tracking several Omicron subvariants, including:3 4  

  • Variants of interest: XBB.1.5, XBB.1.16 and EG.5. 
  • Variants under monitoring: BA.2.86, DV.7, XBB, XBB.1.9.1, XBB.1.9.2 and XBB.2.3. 

Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, nicknamed Kraken, can spread quickly, but there’s currently no evidence that it would cause more severe disease than other Omicron subvariants.5

Arcturus, also known as XBB.1.16, also has the potential to spread rapidly. Although there's an increased risk that this variant can escape the immunity we've built up through vaccination programs and previous infections, the severity of this strain is relatively low.6

The new subvariant of Omicron EG.5 is nicknamed Eris and currently accounts for 21.9% of all COVID-19 cases in the USA. It can be transmitted easily, and there's an increased risk that it can also escape our immunity.7

These 3 variants of interest are being closely monitored. They're considered an emerging risk to global public health due to their characteristics that make them more transmissible or enable them to escape our immune system. The variants under monitoring are suspected of having genetic changes that are not completely clear yet, so they should be monitored to know the potential implications on public health. 

What are the symptoms of Omicron?

Omicron symptoms are typically less severe than those of previous variants like Delta. Although the symptoms are less severe, Omicron can still cause hospitalization and death, so it’s important to remain cautious and to follow the existing advice to reduce the spread of the virus.8

In general, Omicron symptoms are more present in the upper respiratory tract. A big difference between an infection with Omicron and previous variants can be noted in the loss of smell and taste. This was a frequent symptom for other variants but doesn’t occur as much with Omicron, making it harder to detect this variant as Omicron symptoms often resemble those of a common cold. 

Symptoms of Omicron include but are not limited to:9

  1. Sore throat 
  2. Runny nose
  3. New, persistent cough 
  4. High temperature
  5. Muscle and body aches 
  6. Fatigue without a clear reason
  7. Headaches

Omicron variant symptoms in adults are usually more noticeable than in children, although adults and children can be infected with the virus without showing any symptoms. The severity of symptoms can vary between people and depend on age, vaccination status, and underlying health problems.

Omicron subvariant symptoms are usually quite similar if you compare one subvariant to another, although there's one subvariant scientifically known as XBB 1.16 and nicknamed Arcturus, which can cause a specific symptom called conjunctivitis or pink eye. This condition causes inflammation and redness in the white part of the eye. This may combine with itchiness, watering the eyes, and feeling like your eyelids are sticky. As this is also a possible hay fever symptom, knowing the difference between COVID-19 and allergies is essential.10 11   

Diagnosing Omicron – What to expect during COVID-19 testing?

To diagnose Omicron, doctors typically use a PCR test, which detects genetic material from the virus in a sample taken from the nose or the throat. Rapid antigen tests can also be used but are less sensitive than PCR tests. 

If you’re being tested for a possible infection with the coronavirus, the specific variant you’ve been infected with can be determined by a process called genome sequencing. This process checks the genetic material of the virus for specific mutations that are unique to the Omicron variant. However, genome sequencing is usually performed to gather information about the spread and status of COVID-19 variants, so your test result will usually not contain info on the exact variant you’ve been infected with.12

How long do Omicron symptoms last?

Omicron symptoms can last from days to weeks and depend on a few factors, such as age, vaccination status and underlying health problems. In general, younger people and those who are vaccinated experience symptoms for a shorter time. 

Some people may find that their symptoms linger on, a situation called long COVID. There’s no set time frame for these long COVID symptoms, but they can persist for weeks to months. If this is the case, then you should contact your general physician. 

How can Omicron symptoms be treated?

The treatment approach for symptoms of Omicron depends on the severity of the illness. Since most cases of this variant tend to be mild and self-limiting, you can use self-care measures at home to relieve your symptoms. These may include:13 14

  • Taking pain medication such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Staying hydrated by drinking enough water, especially if a fever is present
  • Taking cough medicine and sitting upright instead of laying down in case you have a cough 

If your symptoms are gradually getting worse or if you have questions about medication, then it’s important to seek medical advice from a doctor. 

Wrapping up

Omicron symptoms are similar to those of other variants of the coronavirus, with the notable difference that the lower respiratory tract tends to be far less affected than with other strains. Due to its rapid spread, Omicron is being closely monitored by the World Health Organization to monitor its impact on public health. 


Q: How deadly is the Omicron variant of COVID-19? 
A: Research suggests that Omicron usually tends to cause milder symptoms than previous variants. However, it’s still important to follow current health advice, as this variant may still cause severe illness or death for some people.

Q: Can the Omicron variant reinfect those who’ve had the coronavirus? 
A: Even if you’ve already been infected with the coronavirus once, you can still be infected again. The risk of reinfection increases when new variants emerge, as the evolved virus often can evade your existing immunity. 

Q: How do Omicron symptoms progress? 
A: Omicron symptoms usually get a bit worse the first few days after the onset of your symptoms. Afterward, symptoms will start to diminish. If you're still experiencing symptoms weeks after you've been infected, then you may have long COVID. 

Q: What are the first symptoms of Omicron? 
A: The first symptoms of an infection with the Omicron variant may vary but usually consist of a sore throat, fever, cough, headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue.

Q: How long is Omicron contagious for? 
A: You’re most infectious in the 48 hours before your symptoms start and in the first 5 days after your symptoms start. After that period, you’ll be less contagious. 

Q: What are some of the symptoms of the Omicron subvariant BA.5? 
A: Some of the typical symptoms of the Omicron subvariant BA.5 include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever, headaches, muscle pain, and fatigue.