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First Signs You Have COVID, According to Doctors

If you experience these symptoms, contact a medical professional.

You're hot, you feel a cough brewing, your eye feels wonky—and, oh no, is this COVID-19? Is this the first sign you have coronavirus? "The bottom line is that only COVID test—or an antibody test—can confirm you have or had a case, but since even those aren't 100%, read on for other clues," says Dr. Leo Nissola. Here are 13 early signs that you might have COVID-19, informed by the CDC and the most recent studies; if you experience them, contact a medical professional to get tested. And to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.


You Have Flu-Like Symptoms

Sick woman sneezing and blowing nose

"For most people, the coronavirus will be like any other flu or cold. Many people catch these illnesses during their lives and experience only mild symptoms," says Dr. Carrie Lam. For a certain amount of people: "There are no special signs or symptoms of coronavirus. In fact, that is one of the reasons why it spread so quickly," says Dr. Kaushal M. Kulkarni, a board-certified ophthalmologist.


You Have a Loss of Senses

woman, annoyed, frustrated fed up sticking her finger in her throat

"Thirty percent of patients have loss of smell (anosmia) and loss of taste (ageusia) as their first signs of a COVID-19 infection," says Dr. Jonathan Kaplan. "Because of the relationship between smell and taste, taste can also be significantly affected. It can take weeks to recover," says Dr. Inna Husain. Since this loss of sense is so unusual, there's a good chance it's COVID-related if it happens to you.


You Have a Fever

Sick man lying on sofa checking his temperature at home in the living room

"Coronavirus often begins with a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit within 2-14 days of exposure to an infected person," says Dr. LaFarra Young, a pediatric pathologist and health coach. One study found this is usually the first sign you have coronavirus, following by, in order, cough, muscle pain, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.

RELATED: 7 Tips You Must Follow to Avoid COVID, Say Doctors


You Have a Dry Cough

Young ill woman in bed at home

One of the most common symptoms is a dry cough, which can be described as one without mucus or phlegm. "If you notice a slight cough or fever this would be reason enough to begin self-isolation allowing a couple of days to see if symptoms manifest," says Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, a family medicine doctor. "It has been reported that the respiratory symptoms will worsen after a week, though in some cases the incubation period can be as little as two days."

"The cough to look out for is a new, continuous cough," reports the BBC. "This means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or having three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours. If you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual."


You Have a Sore Throat or Headache

sore throat

Nearly 14% of cases studied in China had symptoms of headache and a sore throat, reports WHO. The virus "travels to the back of your nasal passages and to the mucous membranes in the back of your throat," reports Johns Hopkins. "That's the place where symptoms—such as a sore throat and dry cough—often start."

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You Have Chills or Body Aches


CNN news anchor Chris Cuomo says he was shivering so much due to COVID-19 that he "chipped a tooth." "They call them the rigors," he said, adding that he felt like he was being beaten by "a piñata."

Researchers at New York University also discovered aching muscles (known as myalgia) are among the factors that could signal respiratory distress caused by the coronavirus.


You Are Fatigued

Tired woman with closed eyes leaning over coach at home

"Some older or immunosuppressed individuals may not present with a fever, instead presenting with other common symptoms such as sore throat, dry cough, or fatigue," says Dr. LaFarra Young, a pathologist at King's Daughters Medical Center. "Fatigue is a daily lack of energy; unusual or excessive whole-body tiredness not relieved by sleep," reports WebMD. "Fatigue can prevent a person from functioning normally and affects a person's quality of life."


You Experience Shortness of Breath

woman doing asthma crisis at home in the living room

Can't get enough air in your lungs? "Extreme shortness of breath and respiratory issues are what is causing the increase in patients in the ICU. Increasing your immune system using Vitamin D can help decrease the likeliness of the spread of bacterial and viral infections," says Dr. Geoffrey Mount Varner.

If you are struggling for air and can't breathe, seek immediate medical attention.


You Have Pain in Your Chest

Woman touching breast and having chest pain after long hours work on computer

"Persistent pain or pressure in the chest" is one of the CDC's "emergency warning signs"—seek medical help immediately if you feel it. This could be a symptom of the coronavirus or a heart issue, and tests can help determine the right course of action.

RELATED: Simple Ways to Avoid a Heart Attack, According to Doctors


You Have Pink Eye

Closeup of irritated red bloodshot eye

"Conjunctivitis, or more commonly known as pink eye, can present as a symptom of coronavirus," says Dr. Kevin Lee.  "People should be cognizant of possible aerosol transmission with the conjunctiva and through ocular secretions, like tears."  


You Have Diarrhea or Vomiting

Woman touching stomach painful suffering from stomachache causes of menstruation period, gastric ulcer, appendicitis or gastrointestinal system disease

Diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain may be more common as a symptom of COVID-19 than anticipated, according to The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Half the patients that were diagnosed complained of those issues in the study. Some patients may not even have respiratory symptoms, and just digestive ones.

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You Have a Bluish Face or Lips

Dark purplish lips color in congenital cyanotic heart disease girl patient.

This is considered one of the CDC's "emergency warning signs" and they advise you "get medical attention immediately" if you see them. Cyanosis is the name for poor oxygen circulation in the blood that causes bluish discoloration of the skin.


You Feel Confused

An old man touches his head. Headache. Alzheimer's disease

Doctors have observed neurological symptoms, including confusion, stroke and seizures, in a subset of COVID-19 patients. If you are considered high risk, you may show rarer and more severe symptoms. The CDC considers "new confusion or inability to arouse" as an emergency warning sign. Do seek medical attention immediately if it sets in.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, call your medical care provider before showing up. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

Emilia Paluszek
Emilia specializes in human biology and psychology at the University at Albany. Read more about Emilia