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Signs You Have COVID But Don't Know It, According to Doctors

Be aware of these symptoms and get tested if you have them, advise doctors.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

As coronavirus cases surge across America, you may be worried you have it. It's essential to know that many of us may never feel symptoms—"It is now clear that about 40%-45% of [COVID-19] infections are asymptomatic," says Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert. This is why, to protect your fellow Americans, you have to behave as if you might be carrying it at all times. Making things difficult, those who do get symptoms may find them hard to identify, because they can resemble other medical issues. Read on for 11 factors that may indicate you have COVID-19 and don't know it, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.


You May Have a Thunderous Headache

Close up Portrait of young woman with headache

Broadway star Danny Burstein recalled getting "migraines on steroids" during his terrible bout with COVID-19, and headaches are one of the CDC's most common symptoms. Since you might normally get them—due to stress, loud noises or body chemistry—you may not associate them with the coronavirus. But you should. "We're seeing a small subset of people who have prolonged headache symptom long after their acute illness is over," Dr. Valeriya Klats, a neurologist and headache specialist with the Hartford HealthCare (HHC) Ayer Institute Headache Center in Fairfield County, tells Hartford Healthcare. "This can either be episodic or an all-day, everyday headache. The way we describe this is the new 'daily persistent headache.' It's very bothersome to patients."


You May Have Unusual Skin Issues

woman showing her skin itching behind , with allergy rash urticaria symptoms

While neither the WHO or CDC mentions skin rashes as a possible symptom of COVID, doctors across the country have reported various types of skin rashes—from COVID toes to rashes and lesions on the body—thought to be as a result of virus-related inflammation. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology has set up a registry where healthcare workers can report cases of skin conditions that develop in COVID-19 patients, in hopes of understanding exactly why the virus is causing these issues. 

RELATED: COVID Symptoms Usually Appear in This Order, Study Finds


You May Be Feeling Extreme Exhaustion

Sick man sleeps covered with a blanket lying in bed with high fever, resting at living room. He is exhausted and suffering from flu with cup of tea with lemon, medicaments. Influenza season.

Was there a time over the last few months when you simply felt too tired to move? Maybe you thought it was due to a rigorous workout, or maybe a lack of sleep. But an overwhelming number of people who have coronavirus experience only mild symptoms, and a common one of those is extreme fatigue. As with any type of infection, your body uses energy to fight against it, and the result is feeling more tired than usual. This fatigue, for "long haulers," can last for months after the virus is shed.


You Had an Unrelenting Dry Cough

A woman wearing a face mask in the city coughing.

It's easy to brush this symptom off: it's cold, and you're used to coughing a bit during the winter. According to Chinese researchers, 68 percent of coronavirus patients complain of a dry, continuous cough. "Considering that COVID-19 irritates lung tissue, the cough is dry and persistent. It is accompanied with shortness of breath and muscle pain," reports Science Alert. "As disease progresses, the lung tissue is filled with fluid and you may feel even more short of breath as your body struggles to get enough oxygen."


You Have Pink Eye

male eye with reddened eyelid and cornea, conjunctivitis

Pink eye is one of those pesky eye infections that most of us experience at some point in life. However, the American Academy of Ophthalmology points out that the condition, also called conjunctivitis, can be COVID-related. "Several reports suggest that SARS-CoV-2 can cause a mild follicular conjunctivitis otherwise indistinguishable from other viral causes, and possibly be transmitted by aerosol contact with conjunctiva," they explained in a statement.


You Are Plagued with Digestive Issues

Young African Woman Lying On Sofa Suffering From Stomach Ache

Did you experience diarrhea, nausea, or gas, and brush it off as something you ate or the stomach flu? "Some people have classic signs of COVID infection like body aches, fevers, headaches, cough and sometimes shortness of breath, but a lot of people are coming to the emergency department with nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain," Dr. Sharon Chekijian, MD, MPH, explains. "While we would usually think this is just a stomach bug, right now there's a good chance that it's COVID." 


You Lost Your Sense of Taste or Smell

Woman using chili pepper as a funny mustache

Did you experience a weird stint where you couldn't taste or smell anything? Dr. Chekijian, a Yale Medicine emergency medicine doctor and assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine, says it could have been coronavirus. "One sign that you were likely infected is a loss of smell and sometimes taste," she explains. "Although other viruses or medical conditions can do this too, right now, it may mean you're infected—even in the absence of other symptoms."


You Experienced Breathlessness

adult male in face mask receiving treatment at hospital suffering respiratory disease lying on bed

If you were having trouble breathing, it could have been COVID-19. Because the virus is an infection of the upper respiratory tract, breathlessness—especially at rest—may have been a sign you were battling the virus. 


You Thought You Had the Flu

Allergic african woman blowing nose in tissue sit on sofa at home office study work on laptop

Due to the fact that COVID's spread occurred during cold and flu season—and the symptoms are quite similar—it's very possible that what you think is flu is COVID. "Symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu appear at different times and have some differences," reports the Mayo Clinic. "With COVID-19, you may experience loss of taste or smell. COVID-19 symptoms generally appear two to 14 days after exposure. Flu symptoms usually appear about one to four days after exposure. COVID-19 appears to be more contagious and to spread more quickly than the flu. Severe illness such as lung injury is more frequent with COVID-19 than with influenza. The mortality rate also is higher with COVID-19 than the flu."


You Were Around Others Who Had It

If you attended a conference, church service, social event, protest or classes with others who were infected, you may not have dodged the infection bullet after all. Research has found that many people had COVID and never realized it because they were asymptomatic. 


You Got a Positive COVID Test

Staff testing a driver for coronavirus

The only way to know for sure if you have COVID-19 is to take a COVID test. Although these are not always 100% accurate, it's the best tool we have now to identify the virus. (PCR testing is considered the gold standard.) "Unfortunately, outside of testing, there is no way you can determine if you've had COVID solely based on symptoms," says Shannon Sovndal, MD, board-certified doctor in emergency medicine. "Many coronaviruses (as well as the flu) can make you feel similar. Additionally, COVID-19 may infect an individual and cause little or no symptoms."


What to Do if You Feel You Have COVID Symptoms

Doctor or nurse wearing PPE, N95 mask, face shield and personal protective gown standing beside the car/road screening for Covid-19 virus

"If you have a fever, cough or other symptoms, you might have COVID-19. Most people have mild illness and are able to recover at home. If you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider," says the CDC. "Keep track of your symptoms. If you have an emergency warning sign (including trouble breathing), get emergency medical care immediately." And to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek