Feeling under the weather is never fun, and it can be especially scary now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Is your cough just a minor cold or is it something more serious? Here’s what you should know if you’re not feeling well.
I think I might be sick. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The CDC recommends watching for the following symptoms, as they are common in people with COVID-19:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- New loss of smell or taste
- Muscle or body aches
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
These symptoms may appear anywhere within 2 to 14 days after you are infected with coronavirus.
I have these symptoms. What should I do?
Whether or not you should seek medical attention depends on your symptoms and how bad they are. People who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 may show none, some, or all of the symptoms listed above. If you have any of those symptoms, no matter how bad they are, you should wear a facemask in public (and at home if you are living with others). Notify those you live with and those caring for you that you think you might have COVID-19.
If you feel that you have fairly mild symptoms, the CDC recommends that you stay home. If you believe you have COVID-19 and are experiencing both fever and cough, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor. Their office will have your health information and can assist with personal recommendations. Check with your doctor before visiting their office as they may advise you to stay home.
It’s important to understand that if you (or someone you are caring for) has a fever and a cough, this does not automatically mean it is because of COVID-19. There are other illnesses that have similar symptoms, such as the seasonal flu. You can read more about how COVID-19 differs from the flu here.
Only seek emergency care if you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, or confusion. This is to protect you and others, as emergency departments are very busy during this time, and you don’t want to be around those who are seriously ill.
I have mild symptoms. What can I do to get better?
People most often use alcohol-based hand rubs in the form of gels. But as it turns out, it doesn’t matter whether you pick a foam, gel, or wipe. They all significantly reduce microscopic bugs and germs on your hands.
Alcohol solutions containing 60% to 95% alcohol are generally effective and usually contain ethanol, propanol, or a combination of both. Popular products include Purell (70% ethanol) and Germ-X (63% ethanol).
A good thing to know is that ethanol, the most common alcohol ingredient, appears to be the most effective against viruses. Propanol, another type of alcohol ingredient, is better against bacteria. For that reason, many hand sanitizers contain a combination of both. Look for these ingredients on product labels when you go to choose one.
One downside to alcohol-based hand sanitizers is that they can be very drying to the skin. That’s why many of these products also contain glycerin, an ingredient that can help prevent skin dryness. Emollients or moisturizers, like aloe vera, can also help replace some of the water in your skin that is stripped away by the alcohol.
When should I go see a doctor?
If you have more severe symptoms, go to an emergency room (ER) as soon as possible, or call 911. Severe symptoms that call for immediate medical attention include:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Sudden confusion
- Loss of consciousness (inability to wake up)
- Bluish color of the lips or face
These potentially dangerous symptoms should not be addressed at home. If you’re unsure whether your symptoms are mild or severe, a healthcare provider will let you know if you should stay home or seek medical care.
When should I self-quarantine?
Once you start feeling unwell, it’s a good idea to begin home isolation to avoid any chance of spreading the virus to others. (If you think you came into contact with the virus, you should start self-quarantining immediately, even before you start feeling symptoms.)
What’s the difference between isolation and quarantine? Isolation is separating people who are sick from those who are healthy. This means staying in a separate area in your home, if possible. Quarantining is limiting your movement outside of your home if you were exposed to or think you were exposed to the virus, so you don’t spread the virus to others in case you have it.
If you have the virus, you may not show any symptoms of COVID-19 early on, but you can still spread it. This is why it is important to quarantine — it helps contain any potential spreading of the virus and prevents others from getting sick. In many states, shelter-at-home orders are already in place, advising people to stay home to reduce the potential spread of the virus.
When can I stop self-isolating?
If you’re starting to feel better, you’re probably wondering when it will be okay to stop self-isolating. The CDC recommends you meet three different conditions before you leave home:
- You must be without a fever for the previous 24 hours. In order for the 24 hours to count, medications to reduce fevers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol), should not have been used during that time.
- Your symptoms, such as cough and shortness of breath, are improving.
- It has been at least 10 days since your symptoms first started.
If you have successfully met all three conditions, you may stop self-isolating. But be aware that this timeline is just general advice. If you were severely ill with COVID-19 or have a weakened immune system (i.e., are immunocompromised) due to a health condition or medication, you may need to self-isolate for 3 weeks and get tested before you can stop isolating. Consult your health provider and local health department for advice specific to you. Situations can vary between states and cities so it’s important to keep track of what your local recommendations are for self-isolation.
Curtseyed of Jairus K. Mahoe, PharmD, DPLA