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When Is It Time To Call The Doctor For What *Might* Be Coronavirus?

by Lindsay E. Mack
Originally Published: 

When nearly every headline has the word "coronavirus" in it, every nearby cough or sneeze starts to seem a little suspicious. So when should you see a doctor for coronavirus symptoms, anyway? Medical experts are learning new facts about the virus every day, including more info about which symptoms require medical attention.

First, though, it's helpful to understand more about the basic symptoms of this coronavirus. "Coronavirus symptoms are a constellation of typical viral respiratory symptoms including cough, fever, runny nose, and malaise," Dr. Jennifer Haythe, critical care cardiologist at Columbia University Center, tells Romper. So how can you tell the coronavirus symptoms apart from those of a cold, flu, or even seasonal allergies? It isn't easy. In fact, "there is not much a doctor can use to tell the difference between the [flu or coronavirus] just by presentation," Dr. Mary Mason tells Romper. Mason also notes that there are lab tests to confirm the diagnosis of coronavirus; however, this isn't necessarily a simple procedure. "Most private doctors cannot perform testing in the U.S. at this time," says Haythe. You'd need to see the appropriate authorities for testing, she explains.

But if it's tricky to tell the difference between coronavirus and the flu, are you supposed to call your doctor after every coughing fit? The experts also have advice on how to walk the line between vigilance and unnecessary panic. For the most part, "it is important to remember that, at this time, there is not widespread community transmission of the virus in the United States. The risk is currently very low," Dr. John Schieffelin, a pediatric infectious disease specialist from Tulane University School of Medicine, tells Romper. And even if you do happen to contract coronavirus, it isn't necessarily going to be a severe illness. In fact, "information available at this time suggests that as many as 85% of adults, if not more, have mild symptoms that don't require hospitalization," says Schieffelin. The majority of people who catch the virus appear to get through the illness with relatively few issues.

With that in mind, there are also some potential coronavirus symptoms that require medical attention. If you or a loved one experience the following health issues, then contact a medical professional.


You Have Flu-Like Symptoms And Have Traveled To Outbreak Areas

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Inform your physician if you're experiencing flu-like symptoms and you've been to areas that have a known coronavirus outbreak. In fact, "travel history to areas with outbreaks or contact with someone who has this travel history" is one way your doctor can distinguish between a case of the flu and COVID-19, as Mason explains. You can monitor the map of locations with confirmed COVID-19 cases from the CDC to stay updated.


You Have Breathing Troubles

This is a serious symptom, so take immediate action. "Anyone with severe symptoms and trouble breathing should always proceed to an emergency room," says Haythe. Shortness of breath and wheezing are also concerning symptoms, as Haythe explains. Inform your physician if you think you've been exposed to COVID-19.


You Have Other Chronic Illnesses Or Immune Issues

Take other health conditions into account if you start experiencing potential coronavirus symptoms. "Children and adults with chronic diseases of the lung and heart as well as those who are immunosuppressed such as those with cancer or a transplant are more at risk of severe disease," says Schieffelin. Let a health care professional know at once if you seem to have symptoms of COVID-19 in addition to these health conditions.


You Are Unable To Eat Or Drink

Any serious symptoms call for immediate medical attention. If your symptoms worsen to the point where you are unable to eat or drink, then see a physician at once, says Schieffelin. You don't have to tough it out at this point.


Your Fever Is Very High

Keep an eye on the thermometer. A very high fever is a concerning symptom, says Haythe. If your fever reaches 103 degrees F (39.4 degrees C) or higher, then this is a cause for medical attention, according to the Mayo Clinic.


You Have Signs Of Another Severe Illness

Sometimes the coronavirus can lead to other serious health conditions. In fact, "the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause severe symptoms in adults like pneumonia, ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) and septic shock," as Amyna Husain, assistant professor pediatric emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, tells Romper. If you even suspect one of these conditions, then see a physician right away.


Your Flu-Like Symptoms Are Causing Concern

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You don't have to experience emergency-level symptoms in order to contact your doctor. "Always feel comfortable calling your doctor for any reason," says Haythe. Whether you're combating the coronavirus, a cold, or intense allergies, don't hesitate to contact your physician for advice.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.


Dr. Jennifer Haythe, critical care cardiologist at Columbia University Center

Amyna Husain, assistant professor pediatric emergency medicine, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center

Dr. Mary Mason, M.D., MBA, FACP, founder of Little Medical School, doctor and mom

Dr. John Schieffelin, pediatric infectious disease specialist from Tulane University School of Medicine

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