Viral Symptoms Guidance

I have viral symptoms and just need a quick, free COVID test. 

Drop by University Health Services (UHS) on Mondays–Fridays between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to pick up a COVID-19 test kit. You do not need an appointment to pick up a kit. You can take the kit home to register and collect your saliva sample, then return it to UHS within 48 hours. Read through the self-directed COVID-19 testing instructions for detailed information.

Please note these changes in hours during winter break:

  • Self-testing will end at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, December 10, 2021.
  • For the week of December 13–16, the deadline for self-test kits will be at noon every day that week, to reflect reduced hours at UHS.
  • The program will be suspended December 20–31, 2021.
  • The program will resume on January 3, 2022.

I have viral symptoms and feel I need a medical evaluation. 

You can schedule with UHS online by going to your MyUOHealth portal. If there are no appointments available through the portal, call 541-346-2770 to speak with a patient services representative or a triage nurse. 

If University Health Services is closed, there are urgent care options in the community, and an emergency department two blocks from campus. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911. 


I have viral symptoms and I’m not sure if I need a medical evaluation or not. 

Read through the information below for more information. If you would like to speak with a triage nurse to discuss your symptoms, call 541-346-2770, 24 hours a day. 

I have a stuffy nose, runny nose, sinus congestion

You may have an upper respiratory infection (URI).

Frequently called "the common cold," a URI is an illness that causes a runny nose, sneezing, sinus congestion, raw feeling throat, headaches, fatigue, and fevers. Some people develop red eyes or cough as well. The average adult gets two or three URIs per year, and children get eight to ten. Symptoms can be persistent and interfere with daily function and sleep. Most people with a URI will have symptoms for a week or less, then start recovering; some symptoms like sneezing and coughing can linger for up to two weeks even though you are feeling better overall. 

What causes a URI? 

URIs are caused by viruses. Each time you have a URI, you develop a degree of immunity to that virus strain, but there are hundreds of different viruses and virus strains. 

Your infection started when you inadvertently breathed in viral particles in the air or touched an infectious particle then touched your mouth or nose. Cold viruses can stay alive on surfaces for about two hours. 

Your immune system responds to the infection by creating inflammation, which in turn leads to your symptoms. It can be helpful to remember that your runny nose, sinus congestion, fevers, and fatigued feeling, while certainly frustrating, are signs that your immune system is working hard to clear out the infection. 

Is this infection dangerous? 

You are sick—that's true. You need to slow down and allow your body time to heal. But URIs are rarely dangerous. Your immune system is very effective at recognizing the infection and eradicating it - much more effective than medicines. URIs nearly always resolve even if you take no medicine at all.

What can I do to feel better?

The most important treatment for a URI is rest, hydration, and healthy foods. Your immune system will clear the infection more effectively than any medication, but it will take some time.

What about antibiotics? 

Studies show conclusively that antibiotics are not an effective treatment for nearly all URIs. Antibiotics will not make you better faster. They will not reduce your symptoms. In addition, antibiotics can have powerful negative effects on your body, including causing allergic reactions, creating side effects like nausea and vomiting, and altering your body's healthy microbiome. Inappropriate antibiotic use also can create resistant bacterial strains.

But why did I get better with antibiotics the last time I had a URI?

It's true that antibiotics have frequently been prescribed for URIs, for fear that the illness would worsen without them. But research demonstrates that taking antibiotics does not speed recovery or lessen symptoms. Simply put, people with URIs get better despite antibiotics, not because of them. This realization is gradually transforming how health care providers treat URIs. 

What if I get sicker? 

If your symptoms aren't improving over two weeks, or if you develop new or persistent fevers, shortness of breath, or new symptoms, contact University Health Services. If you feel markedly worse and UHS is closed, go to urgent care or the emergency department. If you aren't sure, call UHS any time at 541-346-2770.

I have sinus pressure and pain

You may have sinusitis. 

Sinusitis is an illness that causes runny noses, pressure and congested feeling in the forehead and cheeks, fatigue, fevers, sneezing, and headaches. Nasal discharge might be clear, yellow, or green. Some people develop bloody noses. Ear fullness/pressure and bad breath are also common. 

Symptoms can be persistent and interfere with daily function and sleep. Most people with acute sinusitis will have symptoms for one to two weeks, then start recovering. Some symptoms like sneezing or intermittent nasal congestion can linger for up to three to four weeks even though you are feeling better overall. 

What causes acute sinusitis? 

Acute sinusitis is caused when microbes infect the cells lining the hollow cavities (sinuses) in your facial bones. Viruses cause 99 percent of acute sinusitis infections. Bacterial sinus infections are rare and often occur in the setting of an initial viral sinus infection. 

Your immune system responds to the infection by creating inflammation, which in turn leads to your symptoms. It can be helpful to remember that your runny nose, sinus congestion, fevers, and fatigued feeling, while certainly frustrating, are signs that your immune system is working hard to clear out the infection. 

Is this infection dangerous? 

You are sick—that's true. You need to slow down and allow your body time to heal. But acute sinusitis is very rarely dangerous. Your immune system is incredibly effective at recognizing the infection and eradicating it—much more effective than medicines. Acute sinusitis nearly always resolves even if you take no medicine at all.

What can I do to feel better?

The most important treatment for acute sinusitis is rest, hydration, and healthy foods. Your immune system will clear the infection more effectively than any medication, but it will take some time. 

What about antibiotics? 

Antibiotics are not an effective treatment for viral acute sinusitis. If you have a viral infection, antibiotics will not make you better faster. They will not reduce your symptoms. In addition, antibiotics can have powerful negative effects on your body, including causing allergic reactions, creating side effects like nausea and vomiting, and altering your body's healthy microbiome. Inappropriate antibiotic use also can create resistant bacterial strains, so, when you really do need an antibiotic, it may not work. 

If your sinus infection is caused by a bacteria, antibiotics may be needed. About 0.5 to 2 percent of sinus infection are caused by bacteria. When bacteria cause sinus infections, antibiotics can be useful in speeding recovery and preventing complications. Here are some signs that your infection needs a medical evaluation to consider antibiotics: 

  • Symptoms not improving over two weeks
  • Feeling better then suddenly feeling much worse
  • New or persistent fevers
  • Worsening severe facial pressure and pain

What if I get sicker? 

If your symptoms aren't improving over two weeks, or if you develop new or persistent fevers or worsening facial pressure/pain, or if you start to feel better then start feeling worse again, contact University Health Services. If you feel markedly worse and UHS is closed, go to urgent care or the emergency department. If you aren't sure, call UHS any time at 541-346-2770.

I have a sore throat.

You may have acute pharyngitis. 

Pharyngitis, frequently called "sore throat," is an illness caused by a microbial infection (viral or bacterial) in the cells lining the back of the throat. Your infection started when you inadvertently breathed in infectious particles in the air or touched an infectious particle then touched your mouth or nose. 

Symptoms include a raw or painful throat, headaches, body aches, fevers, and fatigue. Some people have "common cold" symptoms at the same time: runny nose, sinus pressure, ear fullness, sneezing, and coughing. Most people with a pharyngitis will have symptoms for a week or less, then start recovering; some symptoms like sneezing and coughing can linger for up to two weeks even though you are feeling better overall. 

How can I tell if my infection is caused by a virus or bacteria? 

Viral pharyngitis often causes nasal congestion, sinus pressure, itchy irritated eyes, and coughing in addition to sore throat; bacterial pharyngitis usually does not cause these symptoms. 

If you are experiencing a severe sore throat without other symptoms, then a medical evaluation for testing may be appropriate. Tests include rapid strep test (looking for Group A strep, a bacteria), throat culture (looking for common bacterial causes for pharyngitis), and testing for EBV, a virus that causes acute mononucleosis. 

How do I treat pharyngitis? 

The most important treatment for pharyngitis is rest, hydration, and healthy foods. Your immune system will clear the infection more effectively than any medication, but it will take some time. In the meantime, slow down and allow your body time to heal. 

There are various medications available in the pharmacy to reduce your symptoms while your immune system clears the infection. Read the Self-Care for Viral Illnesses section below for more information. 

What about antibiotics? 

Antibiotics are rarely needed to treat pharyngitis. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections and are only needed for certain bacterial infections like group A strep. Antibiotics can have powerful negative effects on your body, including causing allergic reactions, creating side effects like nausea and vomiting, and altering your body's healthy microbiome. 

What if I get sicker? 

If your symptoms aren't improving over the next three to five days, or if you develop new or persistent fevers, worsening throat pain, or new symptoms, contact University Health Services. If you feel markedly worse and UHS is closed, go to Urgent Care or the Emergency Department. If you aren't sure, call UHS any time at 541-346-2770.

I have a cough.

You may have acute bronchitis. 

Acute bronchitis, frequently called a "chest cold," is a common illness that causes a nagging cough that can last for weeks. Often, acute bronchitis begins with "cold" symptoms (sore throat, runny nose, sinus congestion, and fatigue) and then transitions into prolonged coughing. Sometimes, the illness just begins with the cough. The cough might be dry and hacking or might produce a lot of mucus. Some people also have wheezing and chest soreness. The average cough of acute bronchitis lasts for 18 days but can last for several weeks. 

What causes acute bronchitis? 

Viruses cause over 90 percent of cases of acute bronchitis in young healthy adults. Bacteria are a less common cause (less than 10 percent) of acute bronchitis. Your immune system responds to the infection by creating inflammation, which in turn leads to your symptoms. It can be helpful to remember that your cough, runny nose, and fatigued feeling, while certainly frustrating, are signs that your immune system is working hard to clear out the infection. 

Is this infection dangerous? 

You are sick—that's true. You need to slow down and allow your body time to heal. But acute bronchitis is rarely dangerous. Your immune system is very effective at recognizing the infection and eradicating it - much more effective than medicines. Acute bronchitis nearly always resolves even if you take no medicine at all.

Is acute bronchitis the same thing as pneumonia? 

No, acute bronchitis is not pneumonia. These two illnesses affect different parts of the lungs. While acute bronchitis involves the large airways leading into the lungs, pneumonia is a more serious lung infection where the air sacs in the lungs fill up with inflammation. While people with pneumonia do often have a cough, they also generally feel very sick with persistent fevers, trouble breathing, and chest pain. 

What can I do to feel better?

The most important treatments for acute bronchitis are rest, hydration, and healthy foods. Your immune system will clear the infection more effectively than any medication, but it will take some time. 

What about antibiotics? 

Studies show conclusively that antibiotics are not an effective treatment for nearly all cases of acute bronchitis. Antibiotics will not make you better faster. They will not reduce your symptoms. In addition, antibiotics can have powerful negative effects on your body, including causing allergic reactions, creating side effects like nausea and vomiting, and altering your body's healthy microbiome. 

But why did I get better with antibiotics the last time I had acute bronchitis?

It's true that antibiotics have frequently been prescribed for acute bronchitis for fear that the illness would worsen without them. But research demonstrates that taking antibiotics does not speed recovery or lessen symptoms. Simply put, people with acute bronchitis get better despite antibiotics, not because of them. This realization is gradually transforming how health care providers treat acute bronchitis. 

What if I get sicker? 

If your cough isn't improving over three weeks, or if you develop new or persistent fevers, shortness of breath, or new symptoms, contact University Health Services. If you feel markedly worse and UHS is closed, go to urgent care or the emergency department. If you aren't sure, call UHS any time at 541-346-2770.

I mainly have a fevers, chills, and body aches.

Fevers, chills, and body aches are signs that your immune system is activated and fighting off an infection. If you don’t have other symptoms to help you detect where the infection might be in your body, then a medical evaluation is important to help determine the cause. 

I have some or all the above.

Many infections cause a variety of symptoms, often starting with nose/sinus/throat symptoms, then developing into a cough. Read through all the information above. If you feel you need to talk to a triage nurse about your symptoms, call University Health Services 24 hours a day at 541-346-2770. 


Self-Care Information for Viral Illnesses

If you have a viral illness, know that your immune system is very effective at clearing viral infections. Your symptoms are signs that your immune system is activated and working hard. Clearing your symptoms fully can take between one to four weeks. 

The treatments described below will help you feel better while your immune system clears the infection. 

  • Antibiotics do not work for viral infections; they can do more harm than good. 
  • Rest. 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night is best until you feel better.
  • Hydrate. Drink plenty of liquids, especially if you have fevers, vomiting or diarrhea. Small sips every few minutes is best. Your body needs sugar and salt to absorb water, so combine your sips with small bites of food or use soups, popsicles, ginger ale, or electrolyte drinks. 
  • Choose healthy foods. Listen to your body and eat what looks appealing. Avoid junk food and caffeine. Also avoid alcohol and other intoxicants; these will delay your healing and prevent you from monitoring your symptoms wisely. 
  • Avoid smoking and vaping. Cigarettes and other inhaled products can irritate your respiratory tract and delay healing.
  • Gargle if you have a sore throat. Put a half teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water, then use this to gargle for 15–30 seconds before spitting it out. 
  • Use honey. Two teaspoons (10 mL) of honey a few times a day and at bedtime can soothe a sore throat and reduce coughing. 
  • Consider allowing a mild fever (below 101 degrees) to run its course. Fever is one modality your immune system uses to kill viruses. Mild fevers are generally not dangerous, even if they are uncomfortable. 

Products you can buy without a prescription to treat your symptoms:

  • Ibuprofen will help reduce pain and fevers. Dose: 400–800 mg every 8 hours with food. Do not take more than 2,400 mg of ibuprofen in 24 hours. Possible side effects may include nausea and stomach pain; stop taking if side effects occur. 
  • Acetaminophen will help reduce pain and fevers. Dose: 500–1,000 mg every 6 hours. Do not take more than 3,000 mg of acetaminophen in 24 hours.
  • Cough drops and throat lozenges can soothe a sore throat and may reduce your cough. They are generally safe to use. 
  • Saline nasal sprays can help soothe sinus pressure and nasal congestion. They are effective and safe. 
  • Decongestants shrink swollen blood vessels and tissues, so your nose/sinus congestion feels temporarily improved. These come in nasal sprays (oxymetazoline— never use longer than three days) and in pills (phenylephrine)
  • Expectorants (ex: guaifenesin) work by thinning out mucous secretions so they are easier to cough or blow out. Guaifenesin dose is 2,400 mg per 24 hours. They only work if you are well hydrated, and even then are only moderately effective. 
  • Cough suppressants/antitussives (ex: dextromethorphan, DM) work by reducing the sensitivity of the stretch receptors in your lungs, thereby blocking your cough reflex. Cough suppressants have been shown to be minimally effective for most people. Consider allowing your body to cough; coughing is your body's way of clearing out the infection.
  • Cough/cold/flu combination products combine various medicines, including those listed above plus antihistamines. Remember, these products might help reduce your symptoms but won't make you heal any faster.