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Is your sneeze or cough something to worry about? Here's how to tell.

If you're feeling under the weather, you may be wondering how to tell if you have coronavirus, the flu or seasonal allergies. Any symptom you have may be unnerving at this time, and while we don't recommend self-diagnosing, the list of symptoms below may give you a better idea of what's to blame for how you're feeling.

If you're concerned about any symptoms you're experiencing, please check in with your healthcare provider for specific recommendations on what to do next.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The most common symptoms of the novel coronavirus are listed below and typically appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

About 80% of people infected with COVID-19 will experience only mild symptoms, but there is a small percentage of people that develop more severe symptoms. This can result in the need for hospitalization.

Symptoms of coronavirus that require immediate medical attention include:

  • Difficulty breathing or extreme shortness of breath
  • Pain and/or pressure in the chest
  • Confusion
  • Severe lethargy or the inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

Keep in mind that you're at a greater risk of developing severe symptoms if you are older than 60, have a compromised immune system or have underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or asthma.

Seasonal Flu

Symptoms of the flu often come on suddenly and may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people who get the flu experience mild to moderate symptoms and recover in a few days to two weeks. However, some at-risk people, such as older adults, young children and people with chronic health conditions, develop more serious complications, like pneumonia.

Seasonal Allergies

This is prime time for seasonal allergies to flare up, as the weather starts to warm and trees begin to bud. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Red, swollen or itchy eyes
  • Runny and/or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Rashes
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing

What to Do If You Think You Have Coronavirus

If you think you may have coronavirus, here's what to do:

  1. Call your primary care physician. You'll need to explain your symptoms so your doctor can tell you whether it's necessary to come in for care or get tested for COVID-19 or the flu.
  2. Avoid your local emergency room. The emergency department is likely dealing with a larger volume of patients and needs to prioritize those who need critical care. Your doctor or the local health department can tell you where to go for testing.
  3. If you develop severe symptoms, call 911 immediately. Let them know that you may have coronavirus so that first responders can protect themselves while caring for you.
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Date Last Reviewed: March 16, 2020
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD
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