Could you have had COVID-19 and not even realized it? Possibly. “The majority of people who contract the coronavirus will experience mild symptoms, the most common being a high temperature and a new, dry and continuous cough. A smaller percentage of people will experience more severe symptoms,” explains Dr. Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead at Treated.com.
However, because the coronavirus actually has a spectrum of symptoms—some so mild they are barely noticeable or easily confused with something else—it can go unnoticed or undiagnosed. Read on to discover the 17 subtle signs you’ve already had coronavirus.
Runny Nose, Sore Throat, and Congestion
Dr. Atkinson maintains that the trifecta of a runny nose, sore throat, and congestion, can signify a mild case of COVID-19. However, because it “sounds, and likely feels, a lot like the common cold, or a hay fever allergy,” many people likely brushed them off.
Reduced, or Loss of, Sense of Taste and Smell
Some people who experience a loss of their taste and smell may have contracted the coronavirus. “It’s a symptom that might accompany really mild symptoms, like those not dissimilar to the common cold—runny nose, congestion and sore throat—but it can also accompany the very mild symptoms, such as muscle aches, fatigue, fever and a continuous cough,” Dr. Atkinson points out. While it is not fully understood yet why some people report experiencing a loss in taste and smell, it is thought that in the majority of cases the sense returns after no more than six weeks, he explains.
Dr. Atkinson adds that when your body is infected by a virus like COVID-19, your appetite can become reduced. “If this is accompanied by a loss of taste and smell it can make wanting to eat or drink really difficult,” he explains. “It’s really important to drink plenty of fluids to help your body combat the virus and minimize the symptoms and even if you don’t feel like it, try to eat something, even if it’s just a snack or a small meal.”
As novel coronavirus is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, things like coughing, a sore throat and breathlessness can occur as symptoms, explains Dr. Atkinson. While the most common is the dry, continuous cough often reported on, if you’re feeling breathless—more so than usual—and if it happens when you’re at rest, then it may be cause for concern and you should (or should have) sought medical advice straight away.
Tiredness and Fatigue
When your body is fighting any kind of infection, it uses up energy. “Most people will feel tired or lethargic so won’t be exercising or going to work when they’re ill but some fitness enthusiasts insist on continuing with exercise to try and battle on through,” explains Dr. Atkinson. This is not usually helpful, the body needs time to rest physically whilst the immune system does the work so take a break from the circuit training for a few days. “You should not ignore your body’s signals,” he adds. “Resting and sleeping while you’re unwell is an essential part of your recovery.”
Dermatologists have observed purple lesions on the feet and hands of some patients with COVID-19 infection, explains Caroline Nelson, MD, a Yale Medicine dermatologist. These lesions are most often found in otherwise asymptomatic children and young adults, and may be itchy or painful.
While the association is still under investigation, this finding is often called “COVID toes.” Importantly, severe COVID-19 infection may also increase the tendency of the blood to clot, depriving the skin of blood flow and leading to purple skin lesions. Subtle differences in appearance provide doctors with clues to differentiate causes of purple skin lesions associated with COVID-19 infection.
“Swollen toes and feet might also be related to venous thrombosis and poor return of the blood to the heart rather than poor blood flow to the toes,” says interventional radiologist Hamid Mojibian, MD, of Yale Medicine—which is why you should let your doctor know about this unusual symptom.
If you have recently suffered from conjunctivitis, a.k.a. pink eye, it could have been due to COVID-19. “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,” the American Academy of Ophthalmology recently said in a statement. This is why some experts are recommending contact lens wearers to switch to glasses during the pandemic.
Diarrhea or Nausea
According to the CDC, “Some persons with COVID-19 have experienced gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and nausea prior to developing fever and lower respiratory tract signs and symptoms.” In fact, a study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology found that digestive issues were more common in those with COVID-19 than previously thought, and that up to half of patients diagnosed complained about one of these symptoms.
A Fever Spike
Did you have a fever that came and went so quickly you brushed it off? Well, it could have been COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization, 87.9% of 55,924 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus reported a fever—making it by far the most common symptom.
Perhaps you wrote off those body aches, pains, and soreness due to overexertion. Or maybe you thought you had the flu. However, according to the CDC muscle pain is a symptom of coronavirus.
“The skin is often a window into a person’s health and may show signs of COVID-19 infection,” explains Dr. Nelson. Rashes may present as small blisters, morbilliform (“measles-like”) exanthems (many, often symmetric, pink-to-red bumps that can merge together), and hives (itchy red wheels on the skin). Purple skin lesions reported in patients with COVID-19 range from itchy to painful bumps on the hands and feet (“COVID toes”) to angulated areas of skin injury from lack of blood flow.
“It is important to note that these skin signs are non-specific, meaning that they can be associated with other infections, systemic disorders, and medication reactions. It is important to seek medical advice from your physician,” Dr. Nelson says.
While it appears to be an extremely rare symptom, some COVID-19 victims suffer from disorientation and confusion. One study published in JAMA found that over a third of hospitalized patients in Wuhan, China showed neurologic manifestations of the disease — including loss of balance or coordination, loss of consciousness, and seizures.
A Dry Cough
A dry cough is one of the defining symptoms of COVID-19, according to the WHO. What is the difference between a wet and dry cough? As the name implies, a wet cough will likely produce mucus or phlegm, while a dry cough is, well, dry.
The Chills or Repeated Shaking
The CDC recently made six new additions to their official list of COVID-19 symptoms. Amongst them was not only “chills” but “repeated shaking with chills.” The symptom generally goes hand-in-hand with a fever.
You Were Sick Early in the Year
If you were sick in January or February and brushed it off as the flu or a cold, it could have actually been COVID-19. While the first known case of coronavirus in the United States was reported in early January, community spread didn’t appear to be an issue—or so we thought. In fact, it wasn’t until late February that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in a patient in California who had no known contact with anyone who had been diagnosed with the virus or no travel history to an outbreak area.
However, recently it was confirmed that there were two coronavirus-related deaths as early as February in California. Since the COVID outbreak took place during peak cold and flu season, it’s quite possible that you were battling coronavirus and didn’t know it.
You Spent Time in a Hotspot Early in the Year
If you spent some time in any of the early coronavirus hotspots—specifically parts of California, Washington, and New York City—earlier in the year and felt under the weather, it could have been COVID-19. Experts believe that the virus was spreading in specific geographic regions long before we realized it. For example, two preliminary studies conducted in California and released in April found that between 2.5% and 4.2% in Santa Clara County and at up to 5.6% in Los Angeles had already been exposed to the virus.
Be Concerned if You Were Around Others Who Tested Positive
If you were around other people who tested positive for COVID-19, there is a good chance you had it too. According to research, an overwhelming amount of people are asymptomatic carriers. In most of the study groups, they were living in the same area as others who tested positive. So, if someone in your house was sick, but you never showed symptoms, there is a good chance you had it, too.
There is Only One Way to Know if You’ve Already Had Coronavirus
Dr. Atkinson points out that the only way to know for sure if you had COVID-19 is by using an antibody test, a test that confirms whether or not someone had been infected with the virus in the past. According to the CDC, they are “becoming available through healthcare providers.” Though note that no test is 100% accurate, including these. Call your doctor to ask for one—or if you think you currently have COVID-19.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.