With the new strain of COVID-19 coronavirus spreading across the globe, you might be afraid that your respiratory symptoms could mean you have the virus. While it’s more likely that you have a common respiratory infection, such as the common cold or the flu, it’s important to take your symptoms seriously and contact your doctor just in case. If you are sick, your doctor will help you get the treatment you need.
Recognizing the Symptoms
Look for a cough that may or may not produce mucus. While coronavirus is a respiratory infection, it doesn’t cause as many symptoms as infections like the common cold or the flu. Coughing is a common symptom, which may or may not bring up phlegm. Call your doctor if you have a cough and think you might have coronavirus.
- You’re more likely to have coronavirus if there is community spread in your area, you’ve come into contact with someone who may be infected, or you’ve recently traveled (especially to China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, or Europe).
- If you’re coughing, cover your mouth with a tissue or your sleeve so others won’t get infected. You may also wear a surgical mask to trap droplets that might infect others.
- While you’re sick, stay away from people who are in high-risk groups for infection and complications, such as people who are 65 and older, babies, children, pregnant women, and people who are taking medication to suppress their immune system.
Take your temperature to see if you have a fever.
COVID-19 typically causes a fever. Use a thermometer to check your temperature to see if it’s 100.4 °F (38.0 °C) or higher, which means you have a fever. If you develop a fever, be sure to call your doctor before you go to any healthcare facility.  Stay home aside from getting medical care.
- When you have a fever, you’re likely contagious with whatever illness you have. Protect others by staying home.
- Keep in mind that a fever is a symptom of a lot of illnesses, so it doesn’t necessarily mean you have coronavirus.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this strain of coronavirus can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia. See your doctor immediately if you’re having any breathing issues just to be safe
Warning: People with weakened immune systems or pre-existing medical conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, are especially vulnerable to potentially deadly coronavirus infections.Babies and elderly people are also at risk of developing complications, such as bronchitis or pneumonia. If you or someone you care for are at risk, take special care to avoid exposure to infected people or animals.
Recognize that it’s likely not coronavirus if you have other symptoms.
As of March 2020, the CDC and WHO both report that the common symptoms of coronavirus include cough, fever, and shortness of breath. Other respiratory symptoms such as a sore throat, runny nose, headache, or body aches may mean you have a more common respiratory infection, such as the common cold or the flu. Call your doctor to see if your symptoms may be caused by COVID-19
- It’s understandable that you’d be worried, but try to remember that it’s unlikely that you have coronavirus if you don’t have fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
Tip: If you’re young and in good health, you may have very mild coronavirus symptoms. If you’ve recently traveled or were exposed to someone who has COVID-19, call your doctor if you have respiratory symptoms to find out if you need to get tested. In the meantime, stay home so you won’t infect others.
Getting Medical Care
Call your doctor right away if you think you have a coronavirus infection.
Take your symptoms seriously if you think it’s possible you’re sick, as a severe coronavirus infection can become life-threatening. Call your doctor to find out if they think you need to be tested for coronavirus. Tell them about your symptoms and if you’ve recently traveled, come into contact with someone who may be sick, or come into contact with a possibly infected animal. Follow your doctor’s advice to either come in for testing or stay home and monitor your symptoms.
- Let your doctor’s office staff know that you think you may have a coronavirus infection before you arrive. That way, they can take precautions to prevent you from potentially spreading the disease to other patients.
If your doctor thinks you may have coronavirus, they’ll likely quarantine you in their office or the hospital while you’re being tested. Then, they’ll contact the CDC if you’re in the United States or your country’s national public health center if you’re outside the United States. Your doctor or a public health expert will swab your mucus or do a blood draw to test for coronavirus.
- It’s possible that your doctor will allow you to self-quarantine at home, depending on the situation. However, you will likely be isolated to prevent coronavirus from spreading to other patients.
- Your doctor cannot test your sample in their office. The CDC, your local health department, or your national health organization will take over to do the testing.
There’s no specific treatment for coronavirus infections yet. It is a viral infection that cannot be cured with antibiotics. If your doctor diagnoses you with a coronavirus, they will likely send you home unless you have severe symptoms that require hospitalization. Ask them for instructions on how to care for yourself and prevent the disease from spreading to others.
- Your doctor may prescribe or recommend medications to treat your symptoms. There are no medications that can kill or cure the virus itself, so all you can do is take care of yourself and wait for it to run its course.
- Ask your doctor about what to expect and when or if you should return for further treatment (e.g., if your symptoms get worse or if new symptoms develop).
- Get emergency medical care if you have serious lung symptoms. While some cases of COVID-19 are mild, this coronavirus can cause severe respiratory symptoms like difficulty breathing. Try not to worry, but these symptoms are always an emergency. Go to an emergency room or call for help if you have the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing or severe shortness of breath
- Bluish lips or face
- Pain or pressure in your chest
- Growing confusion or difficulty arousing
Caring for Yourself While You’re Sick
Stay home until your doctor says you’re infection-free. Staying home will help prevent you from spreading the infection to others. Additionally, getting plenty of rest is vital for helping your body fight the infection and recover. While you’re infected, stay home from work or school and avoid strenuous activities around the house. Get as much sleep as you can.
- Ask your doctor for advice about when you can return to your regular activities. They may recommend waiting for up to 14 days or even longer after your symptoms have cleared up.
Tip: If you share a home with someone, do your best to isolate yourself in a separate room of your home. If your home has more than 1 bathroom, use a separate bathroom from the rest of your household. This can help you protect your family or housemates from contracting the virus.
Take over-the-counter medications to manage pain and fevers. If you have symptoms such as body aches, headaches, or a fever, you can get relief with medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), or naproxen (Aleve). If you are over 18, you can also use aspirin as a pain reliever and fever reducer.
- Never give aspirin to children or teens under 18, since it can cause a potentially fatal condition called Reye’s Syndrome.
- Always follow the dosing instructions on the label or given to you by your doctor or pharmacist. Before taking any medication, let your doctor know if you are pregnant or nursing.
Tip: You may have seen reports that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) can make COVID-19 worse. However, there’s no medical evidence to back this up. If you have concerns about taking any medication, check with your doctor before you take it.
Use a humidifier to ease your cough.
A humidifier can help soothe your throat, lungs, and nasal passages, which can ease coughing. Additionally, it helps thin out mucus so your coughs are more productive. Set one up by your bed at night and wherever you spend most of your time resting during the day.
- Taking a hot shower or sitting in the bathroom with the shower running can also bring relief and help loosen up mucus in your lungs and sinuses.
Drink plenty of fluids. It’s easy to get dehydrated when you’re sick. While you’re recovering from a coronavirus, keep sipping on water, juice, or other clear fluids to fight dehydration and loosen up congestion.
- Warm liquids, such as broth, tea, or warm water with lemon, can be especially soothing if you have a cough or sore throat.
Isolate yourself until your doctor clears you to leave your home. It’s extremely important that you stay home until you are no longer contagious so you don’t spread the virus to others. Your doctor will tell you when it’s okay for you to return to your normal activities. Check with your doctor before you go out, even if you feel like you’re improving.
- Your doctor may test you again to see if you still have the coronavirus.
- If tests aren’t available, they may allow you to leave your home after you’re not showing symptoms for at least 72 hours.
Get emergency care if you develop severe symptoms. Try not to worry, but coronavirus can cause serious symptoms and you may develop pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. Get immediate medical attention if you develop any severe symptoms, which are:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face.
- This list is not all inclusive, consult with a medical provider if you experience any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.
Stay home as much as possible to social distance. You’ve probably heard about “social distancing,” which means limiting contact with other people. This can help prevent community spread of the coronavirus. Only leave your home for necessities, like buying groceries or going to work. If possible, make arrangements to work or do your school work at home for the time being.
- When you do go out, maintain a distance of 6 ft (1.8 m) between you and other people.
- If you have a social gathering with friends or family, limit your guest count to 10 or fewer people