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13:03 PM

How Do I Know if I Have COVID-19 Symptoms?

Even though COVID-19 symptoms such as cough, fever, fatigue and shortness of breath have been widely reported in the media, it can be hard to know if that cough you've developed is a symptom of a cold, the flu or COVID-19.

So how can you tell if your symptoms might be related to the novel coronavirus?

"This wouldn't be a light or fleeting cough—it's more persistent," said infectious disease specialist Rekha Murthy, MD, vice president of Medical Affairs and associate chief medical officer at Cedars-Sinai. "It may be a dry cough, but it's new and deep and not like a typical allergy cough, which is usually caused by a tickle in the back of the throat."

Shortness of breath would be notable, Murthy adds, because you'd experience it while doing something that normally isn't difficult, such as walking in your home or climbing stairs.

In addition to respiratory symptoms, feeling feverish or experiencing chills could also suggest a COVID-19 infection. Monitor yourself for a temperature over 100.4 degrees, though not all patients may have a fever.

"Some people who are elderly or immunosuppressed might not be able to mount a fever, which is a sign of the body trying to fight off an infection," Murthy said.

Some patients with COVID-19 also have experienced gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and nausea before developing a fever or a cough, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Less common symptoms that also have emerged include a loss of taste and smell, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. Still, Murthy said that COVID-19 mainly causes a lower-respiratory tract infection for which cough and shortness of breath are the most notable symptoms.

So what should you do if you suspect that you have COVID-19?

"The most important thing is to stay home and practice social distancing and to isolate yourself for as long as you have symptoms and for at least 72 hours after fever resolves and symptoms have significantly improved," Murthy said.

If your symptoms are manageable—low-grade fever, cough, chest congestion and mild fatigue—she recommends resting at home, drinking lots of water and taking fever-reducing medication, such as acetaminophen, for symptom relief.

If worsening symptoms develop, such as labored breathing, persistent high fever or severe weakness, contact your healthcare provider or visit an urgent care center. If you have trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to rouse yourself or bluish lips or face, then head to the Emergency Department.

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai blog: Going to the Doctor During COVID-19: What You Need to Know