Asthma Cough VS. COVID Cough : What’s the Difference?

Contracting COVID-19 can cause severe symptoms and complications. This is particularly true for people with underlying health conditions.

COVID-19 can affect the respiratory system, so people with asthma may be concerned about risks to their health.

People with asthma may wonder how to distinguish asthma symptoms from COVID-19 symptoms since some are the same. These include a cough and shortness of breath.

Here are the differences between an asthma cough and a COVID-19 cough.

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COVID-19 symptoms

People who contract COVID-19 may exhibit a number of symptoms ranging from mild to severe. These symptoms typically appear from two to 14 days after exposure. They can affect anyone, regardless of age or medical history.

Common symptoms of COVID-19¹ include:

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chills or fever

  • Fatigue

  • Body and muscle aches

  • Headache

  • Sore throat

  • Congestion

  • Runny nose

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Loss of taste and/or smell

This is not an exhaustive list of possible symptoms. Some people experience other symptoms or no symptoms at all.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing

  • New confusion

  • Persistent pressure or pain in the chest that won’t go away

  • You can’t wake up or stay awake

  • Color changes in your fingernails, fingertips, tongue, lips, and/or around your eyes

What to do if you think you have COVID-19

If you know you were exposed to COVID-19 or you suspect you have the virus, take these steps to regain your health and protect people around you:

  • Stay calm: The thought of having COVID-19 can be scary, but don’t panic. Even if you have the virus, there’s a good chance you’ll have mild symptoms, particularly if you’ve been vaccinated.

  • Get tested: COVID-19 shares many symptoms with other illnesses, so it’s important to determine what’s causing them. Test if you have been exposed, even if you don’t develop symptoms. Take immediate precautions to protect others if your test results come back positive, like isolating or wearing a mask. Tell other people you’ve had contact with so they can get tested too.

  • Contact your doctor: If you get a positive test result, ask your doctor what to do next. Depending on how much time has passed, your symptoms, and your medical history, they may recommend you take an antiviral pill to reduce the effect of your symptoms.

  • Isolate: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) recommends isolation for five days (correct at the time of publishing). You can stop isolating if you don’t have symptoms, but continue to wear a mask for a further five days.

  • Take care of yourself: If you test positive, drink plenty of water, rest, and take over-the-counter pain relievers as needed. Contact your doctor if your symptoms worsen.

Asthma symptoms

If you’ve been diagnosed with asthma, pay close attention to your symptoms and triggers. These may differ from what other people experience.

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain or tightness

  • Wheezing

  • Waking up at night due to symptoms

Common triggers for asthma include:

  • Pet dander

  • Poor air quality/air pollution

  • Exercise

  • Dust mites

  • Cold, dry air

  • Tobacco smoke

  • Chemical fumes

  • Viruses

What to do if you think you have asthma

If you experience asthma symptoms or think you may have it, make an appointment with your doctor immediately.

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that has no cure. It won’t go away on its own and may worsen if left untreated. It can be life-threatening in some cases.

Your doctor can give you a diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan to prevent your symptoms from progressing.

Are people with asthma at risk of developing severe COVID-19?

Asthma is listed as a chronic lung disease that can lead to severe illness from COVID-19. However, some studies suggest having asthma doesn’t put you at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 or having a serious illness.

People with well-controlled asthma typically have less severe cases of COVID-19 than those whose asthma isn’t well-controlled. While having asthma doesn’t cause someone to be “high risk,” ensure your symptoms are properly managed to stay healthy, preventing asthma attacks and hospital visits.

If your asthma symptoms are difficult to manage, talk to your doctor. They can recommend ways to better control your symptoms, prevent flare-ups, and protect yourself from COVID-19.

What’s the difference between COVID-19, asthma, the flu, and a cold?

COVID-19 shares many symptoms with other respiratory illnesses, including asthma, the flu, the common cold, and allergies. This can make it challenging to determine what’s causing your symptoms.

COVID-19, the flu, and the common cold are all caused by different viruses. Colds are generally considered milder than the flu, while COVID-19 can range from mild to severe.

Asthma is not caused by a virus specifically. It occurs when the airways in your lungs become swollen and inflamed, making breathing difficult. Asthma is an overreaction of the immune system in your lungs due to certain triggers. A virus could cause this overreaction.

These four conditions share similar symptoms, but some key differences exist between them. These include:

  • Net loss of taste and smell usually only occurs with COVID-19.

  • COVID-19 and the flu can occasionally cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The common cold does not cause these symptoms.

  • Sneezing is a common cold symptom but only sometimes occurs with the flu and COVID-19.

  • Muscle aches, fever, and fatigue are common with COVID-19 and the flu. These symptoms only occasionally develop with a cold.

  • Asthma does not cause fever, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

How to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses

These steps can help protect your health and the people around you:

  • Get vaccinated: COVID-19 and flu vaccinations can help you avoid getting seriously ill and protect people you come into contact with.

  • Wear a mask: Wearing a mask in public is a good way to reduce your chance of catching or spreading COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

  • Wash your hands regularly: This is an effective way to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses. Use soap and warm water for 20 to 30 seconds, especially before eating and after sneezing and coughing. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose as much as possible.

The lowdown

COVID-19 is a virus that can cause similar symptoms to those of other respiratory illnesses, including asthma. This makes it difficult to determine if your cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms are asthma or COVID-19-related.

Take a test if you have had contact with someone with COVID-19 or if you think you have symptoms. This is the only way to determine what is causing your symptoms. If you test positive, you’ll be able to get treatment or take steps to get better and keep those around you safe.

  1. Symptoms of COVID-19 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Other sources:

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