At some point this month, a stray cough, minor sneeze, or tickly throat has likely stirred one immediate thought: Could I have coronavirus?
But before you jump to the worst-case scenario, take a deep breath. It’s important to remember that flu season isn’t over, and coincidentally, we are in the middle of this public health crisis at allergy season.
Symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, can overlap with the common cold, flu, and allergies, so it’s crucial to pay close attention to how you’re feeling before you rush to the hospital.
It’s very likely that patients could be experiencing allergy symptoms and common colds, But with all of the attention on COVID-19, it’s easy for patients to read into their symptoms too much.
That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not currently recommend rushing to the hospital if you think you might have COVID-19—at least, not right away. Going to a hospital means you either might spread the virus if you do have it or pick it up if you actually don’t. And with an overwhelmed system, it’s crucial to keep as many beds open for high-risk patients.
When should I CALL my doctor about coronavirus symptoms?
First, a quick primer on the signs of COVID-19. The CDC currently only lists three: fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath.
But a February report of a joint World Health Organization-China mission states that any of the following can be symptoms to watch out for:
Shortness of breath
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea (not as common)
The distinguishing features are shortness of breath and high fever, which are unlikely to be symptoms of allergies or common colds.
If you’re exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, but are managing well enough, it’s time to self-quarantine and get a doctor on the phone. At this point, every primary care provider should be aware of the guidelines for COVID-19 safety, and based on the symptoms you describe, they’ll be able to tell you what to do next. If they recommend continued isolation, it will likely be for 14 days.
It is important that people contact their primary care provider for some guidance on whether or not they need to go to one of the testing centers. “COVID-19 is highly contagious, and by showing up at a healthcare facility without giving providers a heads up, you’re putting other people at risk.”
When should I go to the hospital for coronavirus symptoms?
Currently, you may only qualify for a COVID-19 test if you feel multiple symptoms associated with the illness, have traveled to an area with a high number of cases, or have been directly in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
If you call a healthcare provider and they recommend visiting a testing facility or going to a hospital, you should follow their advice as soon as you can, especially if you’re an older adult or immunocompromised. There is a real possibility of serious and fatal complications with COVID-19, and taking it seriously—while avoiding contact with others—is key.
“People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to recover at home,” the CDC says on its website, but “be sure to get care if you feel worse or you think it is an emergency.” The CDC recommends getting immediate medical attention if you exhibit one or more of the following:
Temperature higher than 101°F that lasts more than 2 days or fails to respond at least partly to treatment (like these fever remedies)
Temperature higher than 103°F under any condition Trouble breathing Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
New confusion or inability to arouse
Bluish lips or face Other severe or concerning symptoms