Doctors Explain What a Dry Cough Actually Feels Like for COVID-19
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Most people are on high alert for coronavirus symptoms and for good reason: The confirmed number of cases continues to rise as the second wave of COVID-19 continues to devastate the US. While you can probably list the main symptoms in your sleep at this point - including a dry cough, fever, loss of smell or taste, sore throat, and shortness of breath - you may not understand what they all mean.
However, it is important to know what to look out for. For example, a fever is anything you measure when you take your temperature (if you have a fever at all). Shortness of breath, one of the hallmarks of severe COVID-19, is common in more advanced cases and can make you feel like you are “hungry” for air, experts say.
However, a dry cough can be difficult to figure out, especially because the symptom can be influenced by various factors in your environment. A February 2020 report by a joint World Health Organization in China found that around 68% of people with COVID-19 developed a dry cough, the second most common symptom in more than 55,000 confirmed cases. How does that feel? Doctors want you to know.
What exactly is a dry cough?
There aren't really any specific medical criteria for classifying a dry cough and a wet cough, explains David Cutler, M.D., a family doctor at the Providence Saint Johns Health Center in Santa Monica, California. That's because it's open to interpretation. "Your wet cough seems like a dry cough to me," he says.
But in general, a dry cough means you're coughing, but nothing like mucus or phlegm shows up, says Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network. If you regularly make phlegm when you cough, you are likely dealing with a wet cough.
Many things can cause a dry cough, including allergies and being indoors all day with dry air (keyword humidifiers!), Says Dr. Holmes. Any irritation in your throat can also cause a dry cough, she says. Post-nasal drip, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), asthma, and smoking are also common triggers.
What does a dry cough feel like?
In general, it can feel like any cough with no phlegm. You may also feel like dryness, tickling, or tightness in your chest, says Dr. Parikh.
Ultimately, it feels a lot like your lungs are irritated, says Aline M. Holmes, D.N.P., R.N., clinical associate professor at Rutgers University School of Nursing. "The dry cough that people often experience with coronavirus is a very deep, quiet cough from the floor of their lungs," she explains.
When should you worry about a dry cough as a sign of COVID-19?
❗If you have difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, new confusion, blue lips, or cannot stay awake, see a doctor as soon as possible.
If you develop a dry cough, chances are that you are simply dealing with allergies, being indoors all day (um, working from home), or other environmental factors.
However, it may also indicate COVID-19. Therefore, it is important to look out for other signs of the virus as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
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Fever or chills
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Muscle or body pain
New loss of taste or smell
Constipation or runny nose
Nausea or vomiting
Any cough associated with a fever above 30 ° C should be of concern, says Dr. Parikh. If you are generally feeling okay, instead of rushing to the hospital, call your doctor. A doctor can assist you with next steps in testing, home isolation tips, and treating your symptoms at home if you have a mild case of the virus.
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