Much of our population is rightfully concerned about catching the coronavirus, properly known as COVID-19. How can we tell if we are suffering from COVID-19, typical seasonal allergies, or another common ailment such as the flu or the common cold?
It is not easy to distinguish between all of these respiratory ailments. However, for COVID-19, time to onset of symptoms from exposure is typically five days, ranging from 2-14 days. In nearly 90% of patients, the first symptom will be a high fever, often above 101 degrees Fahrenheit. This is often followed by a dry cough, where not much mucus or phlegm is produced.
For most patients, particularly those under 40 without underlying health conditions, these may be the only symptoms that one might experience.
Some may experience more severe symptoms, particularly older patients, those on steroids or immunosuppressive drugs, chronic smokers, or those who have underlying health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, or respiratory problems.
More serious symptoms include shortness of breath typically 5-10 days after the initial fever. This can be accompanied by fatigue, sore throat, muscle and joint pain, and other symptoms.
Patients can rapidly deteriorate after developing shortness of breath and may need prolonged oxygen therapy, mechanical ventilation, and intensive care. Elderly patients or those with underlying health complications should seek hospitalization if they develop shortness of breath 5 days after a high fever.
Allergic rhinitis from seasonal and year-round allergies is typically associated with itchy eyes, sneezing, and nasal congestion and is not associated with a high fever.
Other ailments such as a common cold may have similar symptoms to COVID-19 but do not often cause shortness of breath after the fever. Influenza does mimic COVID-19 very closely but the shortness of breath is not usually as severe as it is with COVID-19.
Congestion and facial pain or pressure are not symptoms associated with COVID-19, and likely indicate a more common cold, flu or allergies.
To prevent spreading any illness, people should wash hands often and vigorously. This is the best behavior to minimize risk of infection. Patients should also limit public exposure, avoid travel to areas with known outbreaks or crowds of people, and stock up on supplies necessary for a several week quarantine, including non-perishable food, prescription medicines (ideally a 30-90 day supply if possible). If you are elderly or have underlying health problems, then limiting exposure to other people as much as possible is prudent until anti-viral therapies and/or a vaccine is developed.
Patients on steroid therapy or immunosuppressive therapy should consult with their physician to discuss whether reducing or avoiding these medications for the short-term might be appropriate.
If you suspect that you may have COVID-19, you should call your physician or local health department and inquire about testing options which are becoming more available throughout the country.
If you develop shortness of breath after the onset of a fever, then call your local emergency room and/or 911 immediately, particularly if over the age of 60 or if you have any underlying health problems.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the world as we deal with the crisis.
Subinoy Das, MD
Chief Medical Officer
Tivic Health Systems
Other Useful Resources:
CDC Covid-19 What You Should Know
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
CNBC Corona Virus Updates