Let’s start with what COVID-19 feels like. It’s a viral illness. For a lot of young and healthy folks, it is going to feel like something halfway between the common cold and the flu. Some people have such mild symptoms they won’t even notice that they are infected. Most people seem to have a mixture of a runny nose, a sore throat, muscle aches, fever, fatigue, cough, and difficulty breathing. Some people will develop diarrhea and others may lose their sense of smell or taste. Not everyone has the same symptoms, and a large share of people (perhaps up to 50%) do not develop any symptoms at all.
Treating Mild Symptoms
For the majority of people with mild symptoms, the best thing to do with COVID-19 is to stay home. Treat this as you’d treat the flu. Rest and stay hydrated: soup, Gatorade, and sleep. Even with mild symptoms, you probably do want to call your primary care doctor, both so they are aware of the situation and so they can let you know if you should be tested (this is likely to depend on the testing capacity in your state).
Some people are more at risk for serious complications of COVID-19 than others. This includes the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. If you are in these groups, you should certainly be in contact with your doctor so she can help you manage your current symptoms and come up with a plan for you in case things get worse. It’s always better to create a plan before you need it.
When to Call the Doctor
Most people who get sick with COVID-19 can stay at home and will get better in one to two weeks. But it’s very important to be aware of when you should consider more treatment. Again, the warning signs are similar to the flu. First of all, if you are not eating or drinking anything, feeling very tired or dehydrated, or feeling faint when standing then you should immediately call your primary care doctor, and it is likely that she will tell you to go to the hospital. If you feel confused or disoriented, or are experiencing chest pain or difficulty breathing, you should also go to the hospital.
If you have a primary care doctor, stay in touch with them. They can help you decide whether you should be seen. If you are having mild symptoms, your doctor might help you be examined in a clinic specifically for COVID-19 and will help keep you out of the hospital. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, especially shortness of breath, then your doctor will likely recommend you go to the ER.
If you do not have a primary care doctor, urgent care clinics in your area may be able to help. However, if you are experiencing severe symptoms like shortness of breath, go to the ER even if you cannot see a doctor first.