During the COVID-19 pandemic, the question of when to get medical care can be a little confusing. Most healthcare offices are closed, many doctors are working remotely, and we’re encouraged to seek medical attention only in situations that can’t wait until the curve flattens. However, this doesn’t mean you should refrain from calling your doctor altogether. There are many situations—both coronavirus-related and not—in which getting advice from a medical professional is absolutely essential.
You Have Been Exposed To Coronavirus
Because preventing the spread of novel coronavirus is crucial, if you’ve been exposed to someone who is COVID-19 positive, you need to take action. “It’s important to self-quarantine and to connect with your physician via phone or telehealth visit to discuss how you’re feeling and if you should be tested and when especially if you develop symptoms of COVID-19,”says Sharon Chekijian, MD, MPH, medical director of patient experience, emergency medicine at Yale Medicine.
Although you don’t always need to be tested, your doctor will want to screen you for other medical problems to determine if you’re high-risk enough to be seen in the office or the ED. “Unless your symptoms are severe, It’s always a good idea to call ahead to your doctor instead of proceeding directly to the emergency department,” says Chekijian.
You Have Bluish Lips Or Face
A bluish discoloration is a sign that you might not be getting enough oxygen, and it has been reported by some coronavirus patients. “If you notice this, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention,” says Chekijian.
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You Have Pink Eye
Although vision problems are generally not a symptom of COVID-19, pink eye, a.k.a. conjunctivitis, can be. “Visual problems require immediate medical attention as they can be a sign of serious illness,” explains Chekijian. “Pink eye (conjunctivitis), on the other hand, is an infection and inflammation of the membrane in the eye (the conjunctiva) that may be a symptom of COVID-19 or another viral or bacterial infection.”
You Are Having Thoughts Of Suicide
Although we all have a down day now and again, social distancing may make life seem more difficult, isolating many of us from our closest friends and family. “If you have suicidal thoughts, call 211 immediately to talk about it, or go to the emergency room or dial 911,” says Chekijian. “Medical professionals can help determine if you need to be seen for depression or suicidal ideation.”
You’ve Lost The Sense Of Smell Or Taste
Loss of smell and taste, a.k.a. anosmia, is a symptom that has been reported by many patients suffering from novel coronavirus. Chekijian says that it’s important to tell your doctor if you experience this.
You Have Abdominal Pain
A lesser-known symptom of COVID-19 is abdominal pain, says Chekijian. “It’s always important to run your symptoms by your doctor if the pain is persistent or associated with fever,” she explains.
You Are Coughing Up Blood
Leann Poston, MD, a physician with InvigorMedical.com, explains that “irritation to the lungs and forceful coughing can cause a small blood vessel to bleed in the airway.” According to research and patient testimonies, a small percentage of COVID-19 sufferers have experienced coughing up blood, also known as hemoptysis. Although it isn’t life-threatening, it does warrant a phone call to the doctor.
You Have A Fever
A fever doesn’t necessarily mean you have coronavirus or need to get tested, but you should call your physician so they can monitor your symptoms, says Maria Vila, DO, a family medicine specialist in Morristown, New Jersey and medical advisor for eMediHealth. “Fever is your body’s response to infection, both viral and bacterial. It is the normal response and means your immune system is doing what it should be doing to fight off an infection,” says Vila. One of the functions of a fever is to kill viruses and bacteria by raising your body temperature.
Because it is one of the primary symptoms of COVID-19, you should check in with your MD if you have a fever, especially if you are experiencing any of the other symptoms, including dry cough and shortness of breath. Poston says that any fever that is unresponsive to treatment or is over 103 degrees Fahrenheit (or over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit rectal in an infant younger than two months old) warrants a phone call to your doctor. “Fever in an infant should always be investigated,” she says. “Check with your doctor if you have a fever that is unresponsive to treatment or persistent at any age.”
You Have A Dry Cough
Coughs can be very common this time of year, caused by viruses or bacteria or related to allergies. But a dry cough is one of the key coronavirus symptoms. “If you have a dry cough associated with fever, this is a reason to consult your doctor,” says Vila.
You Are Experiencing Shortness Of Breath
Shortness of breath can be due to exertion from exercise, asthma, or illness. It’s one of the scariest symptoms of COVID-19. “The most common triad of symptoms we find in patients infected with COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath,” says Vila. “Shortness of breath doesn’t always mean you need to go to the hospital, but you should definitely call your doctor to discuss what you are feeling.” The vast majority of people who are stricken with the coronavirus have minimal symptoms, adds Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP. “However, what we have learned is that several days after becoming ill, some people can start getting short of breath, and that’s when things can really take a turn for the worse,” he says. If you have fever, cough, and shortness of breath, call your doctor right away. If you can’t get in touch with your doctor, go to the emergency room.
You Have A Bad Sore Throat
A sore throat can be caused by many things, including viruses and bacteria, post-nasal drip, acid reflux, strep throat, and even speaking loudly for long times, says Vila. Paired with fever, it can also be a symptom of COVID-19. Although a sore throat by itself can be easily managed at home with over-the-counter products such as lozenges and home remedies such as honey, “a sore throat that is associated with fever or a sore throat that is worsening and does not resolve in one to two days is something you should contact your doctor about,” she says.
You’re Experiencing Chest Tightness Or Pain
Chest tightness and pain can be a symptom of many things, including a heart attack, pneumonia, asthma, anxiety, and even COVID-19. “This is a symptom you need to discuss with your doctor so he/she can ask further questions about associated symptoms to help determine the cause,” says Vila. “The chest tightness in patients infected with COVID-19 is usually associated with shortness of breath and/or cough, but some patients with COIVD-19 are also suffering heart attacks and other cardiac issues, so it is important to discuss this with a doctor.”
You Have Body Aches
Body aches can be caused by exercise, physical activities such as heavy lifting, bad posture during sleep, poor mattress support, fever, flu, and of course, COVID-19. “It is important to see if your body aches are associated with other symptoms,” says Vila. “The key one for COVID-19 or the flu is fever.” Regardless of the cause, body aches can generally be managed at home with medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, or remedies like heating pads, hot showers and epsom salt baths.
You Have Excessive Fatigue
Fatigue by itself does not indicate that you have COVID-19 or the flu. However, when associated with fever and body aches, it can be a sign of either disease and should prompt a call to your doctor, says Vila. Follow their instructions, which will likely include lots of fluids and rest. “When you are sick, your body will require more sleep. This will help with the fatigue but is also beneficial for proper immune system function to help you fight off infections,” she says.
You Have Diarrhea
Diarrhea is another very common symptom and can be caused by contaminated food, viral infections, food sensitivity, conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, or even as a side effect of medication. “The key to knowing when to call your doctor are the other symptoms associated with diarrhea, as well as the severity and the duration,” says Vila. It can also be an initial symptom of patients with COVID-19, which will then progress to the more typical fever, cough or shortness of breath. Other warning signs that you should call your doctor about: Dehydration, severe diarrhea, blood in stool, abdominal pain and fever.
You Aren’t Sure How To Care For Someone Else
At any time during the coronavirus pandemic, if you’re unsure how to care for yourself or a loved one who is sick—or just need tips on how to stay safe—call your doctor! “We should all be staying at home, and going out for only emergencies or necessities,” says Mintz. “We should all be social distancing, not coming within six feet of others.” There are certain circumstances where extra precautions may need to be taken, such as “people who are living with those that are more at risk, like the elderly or chronically ill,” he adds. “If you are not clear how to protect yourself or others, you should contact your doctor.”
There Is Blood In Your Stool
Finding blood in your stool can be scary, but it’s not always an emergency. “Bright red blood can be from a hemorrhoid, polyps, constipation that can result from inflammation, and a lack of the proper minerals and fiber in your diet,” says Dr. Daryl Gioffre, an anti-inflammation expert and nutritionist. “Dark blood in the stool is of more concern, as it is digested blood further up the digestive tract that can result from ulcers from chronic reflux and even certain types of cancer such as stomach or esophageal.” Either way, any persistent signs of blood in the stool—bright or dark—warrant a call or visit to your doctor.
Your Blood Pressure Is Rising
Don’t ignore rising blood pressure numbers, says Jill Grimes, MD, a board-certified family physician and author of The Ultimate College Student Health Handbook. “Increased stress, lack of physical activity, and higher salt intake (think canned foods and processed meats) are especially common during the pandemic quarantine,” she says. “If you are on blood pressure medications and seeing your pressures steadily creep up, don’t wait for symptoms like headaches, chest pain or blurred vision to call your doctor.”
Your Legs Or Arms Are Swelling
If you develop a one-sided, swollen, tender or red arm or leg, this could indicate a blood clot called deep vein thrombosis, says Grimes, and you should call your doctor ASAP. “These are particularly dangerous, because the clot can go to your lungs (a pulmonary embolism), causing a potentially life-threatening emergency.”
Vomiting isn’t usually dangerous on its own. But if uncontrolled, it can lead to dehydration. “A variety of health conditions can cause vomiting,” says Chekijian. “It’s an important symptom to report as it can indicate influenza, a virus, food poisoning, or even cancer.”
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 40 Things You Should Never Touch Due to Coronavirus.