COVID-19 is a respiratory condition caused by a coronavirus. Some people are infected but don’t notice any COVID-19 symptoms (doctors call that being asymptomatic). Most people have mild symptoms and get better on their own. But some have severe problems, such as trouble breathing. The odds of more serious COVID-19 symptoms are higher if you’re older or have another health condition such as diabetes or heart disease.
Here’s what to look for if you think you might have the virus.
Types of Covid-19 Symptoms
COVID-19 symptoms can range from mild to serious. Anyone can have symptoms at any intensity level. You don't have to have an underlying condition to develop severe symptoms.
Common COVID-19 symptoms
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Fever or chills
- A dry cough and shortness of breath
- Feeling very tired
- Muscle or body aches
- A loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
These symptoms can start anywhere from 2 to 14 days after you’re in contact with the virus.
Emergency COVID-19 symptoms
You need immediate medical help if you have any of these issues:
- Trouble breathing
- Constant pain or pressure in your chest
- Bluish lips or face
- Sudden confusion
- Having trouble staying awake
- Having a hard time waking up
- Pale, gray, or bluish skin, lips, or nail beds
If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor’s office or hospital before you go in. This will help them prepare to treat you and protect medical staff and other people.
Strokes have also been reported in some people who have COVID-19. To identify signs of stroke, remember FAST:
- Face. Is one side of the person’s face numb or drooping? Is their smile lopsided?
- Arms. Is one arm weak or numb? If they try to raise both arms, does one arm sag?
- Speech. Can they speak clearly? Ask them to repeat a sentence.
- Time. Every minute counts when someone shows signs of a stroke. Call 911 right away.
The FDA has approved the antiviral drug remdesivir (Veklury) and nirmatrelvir with ritonavir (Paxlovid) to treat COVID-19 in some people. Molnupiravir (Lagevrio) has been given emergency use authorization for treating the virus. If you have serious COVID-19 symptoms, you should get one of these treatments as soon as possible.
Other COVID-19 symptoms
Less common problems that the virus can cause include:
- Pink eye
- Swollen eyes
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Coughing up blood
- Blood clots
- Heart problems
- Kidney damage
- Liver problems or damage
Some doctors have reported rashes tied to this virus, including on children’s toes and feet. These rashes may show up as purple or blue lesions on lighter skin or pale or gray on darker skin. Researchers are looking into these reports so they can understand the effect on people who have it.
COVID-19 symptoms in children
Kids have many of the same COVID-19 symptoms as adults, but they tend to be milder. Some children may not have any symptoms, but can still spread the virus.
Common coronavirus symptoms in children include:
- Shortness of breath
Some children and teens who are hospitalized with COVID-19 have an inflammatory syndrome that may be linked to the coronavirus. Doctors call it pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (PMIS). Symptoms include fever, rash, belly pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and heart problems. It’s similar to toxic shock and Kawasaki disease, a condition in children that causes inflammation in blood vessels.
Warning Signs of COVID-19
In some cases, certain symptoms show up before the more obvious signs of the coronavirus. Warning signs to look out for include:
Digestive issues. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may show up with other symptoms or before them.
New loss of smell or taste. This symptom, without a stuffy nose, is a common early warning sign of COVID-19. It may go away within 30 days. But in some cases, it can last 60 days or more.
What Are the Symptoms of the Newest COVID-19 Variant?
Most variants of the virus have similar symptoms. But a few strains may have slightly different signs.
COVID-19 symptoms of Omicron variant
COVID-19 Omicron symptoms are usually mild. They tend to include sore throat, runny nose, and other symptoms similar to a cold. They may not include lower respiratory tract symptoms such as wheezing, severe cough, or fever.
COVID-19 symptoms of Delta variant
With this variant, symptoms usually include runny nose, fever, sore throat, and headache. You're less likely to have coughing or loss of taste or smell.
When to Get Tested for COVID-19
Get tested if:
- You’ve had symptoms of the virus.
- You’ve come into close contact with a person who has the virus (take a test at least 5 days after you last saw the person).
- You’ve been asked to get tested by your school, health care provider, workplace, state, local, tribal, or territorial health department (regardless of your vaccination status).
How to Check for Fever
Your regular body temperature may be higher or lower than someone else’s. It also changes throughout the day. Doctors generally consider a fever in an adult to be anything over 100.4 F on an oral thermometer and over 100.8 F on a rectal thermometer.
If you think you’ve come into contact with the virus, or if you have symptoms, isolate yourself and check your temperature every morning and evening for at least 10 days. Keep track of the readings. A fever is the most common COVID-19 symptom, but it’s sometimes below 100 F. In a child, a fever is a temperature above 100 F on an oral thermometer or 100.4 F on a rectal one.
What Kind of Cough Is Common in People With Coronavirus?
Most people with this virus have a dry cough that they can feel in their chest.
What to Do if You Think You Have Mild Symptoms
If you have milder COVID-19 symptoms like a fever, shortness of breath, or coughing:
- Stay home unless you need medical care. If you do need to go in, call your doctor or hospital first for guidance.
- Tell your doctor about your illness. If you’re at high risk of complications because of your age or other health conditions, they might have more instructions.
- Isolate yourself. This means staying away from other people as much as possible, including members of your family. Stay in a specific “sick room,” and use a separate bathroom if you can.
- Wear a face mask if you have to be around anyone else. This includes people you live with. If a mask makes it hard for you to breathe, keep a distance of at least 6 feet from others and cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. After that happens, wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. The CDC states that well-fitting respirator masks (like N95s and KN95s) give better protection than cloth masks.
- Rest up, and drink plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter medicines might help you feel better.
- Keep track of your symptoms. If they get worse, get medical help right away.
What Does Shortness of Breath Feel Like?
Dyspnea is the word doctors use for shortness of breath. It can feel like you:
- Have tightness in your chest
- Can’t catch your breath
- Can’t get enough air into your lungs
- Can’t breathe deeply
- Are smothering, drowning, or suffocating
- Have to work harder than usual to breathe in or out
- Need to breathe in before you’re done breathing out
You should monitor your oxygen levels, and if they drop to the 80s, contact your doctor. If your face and/or lips get a bluish tint, call 911 right away.
Is It COVID-19, the Flu, a Cold, or Allergies?
Cold vs. Flu vs. Allergies vs. COVID-19
(can range from moderate to severe)
|Fever||Rare||High (100-102 F), can last 3-4 days||Never||Common|
|General aches, pains||Slight||Usual, often severe||Never||Common|
|Fatigue, weakness||Mild||Intense, can last up to 2-3 weeks||Sometimes||Common|
|Extreme exhaustion||Never||Usual (starts early)||Never||Can be present|
|Stuffy/runny nose||Common||Sometimes||Common||Has been reported|
|Sneezing||Usual||Sometimes||Usual||Has been reported|
|Sore throat||Common||Common||Sometimes||Has been reported|
|Cough||Mild to moderate||Common, can become severe||Sometimes||Common|
|Shortness of breath||Rare||Rare||Rare, except for those with allergic asthma||In more serious infections|
How to Protect Yourself
The CDC recommends that everyone aged 5 and above get an updated COVID-19 vaccine to keep them from getting seriously ill from the coronavirus. Three updated vaccines are available in the U.S.:
Recommendations by age group are:
- People aged 12 and above who haven't been vaccinated before: 1 dose of either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, or 2 doses of Novavax
- People aged 12 and above who got coronavirus vaccines before September 12, 2022: 1 dose of any of the 3 newer vaccines
- Children aged 5-11, regardless of previous vaccine status: 1 dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna
- Children aged 6 months-4 years who haven't had a coronavirus vaccine before: 2-3 doses of one of the updated vaccines, depending on type
- Children aged 6 months–4 years who were vaccinated before September 12, 2023: 1 or 2 doses of one of the updated vaccines, depending on which type and how many doses they've had
Talk with your doctor before getting the vaccine if you have immune system issues.
Until you’re fully vaccinated, be sure to take these steps to prevent illness:
- Wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds each time, with soap and water.
- Use an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if you don't have soap and water handy.
- Limit your contact with other people. Stay at least 6 feet away from others if you have to go out.
- Wear a well-fitted protective face mask in public places.
- Avoid people who are sick.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you’ve just washed your hands.
- Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces that you touch a lot.
Caring for Someone Who Has COVID-19 Symptoms
If you’re taking care of someone with COVID-19 symptoms, follow these steps to protect yourself:
- Limit your contact as much as you can. Stay in separate rooms. If you have to be in the same room, use a fan or an open window to improve airflow.
- Ask the person who’s sick to wear a well-fitted protective face mask when you’re around each other. You should wear one, too.
- Don’t share items such as electronics, bedding, or dishes.
- Use gloves when handling the other person’s dishes, laundry, or trash. When you’re done, throw away the gloves and wash your hands.
- Regularly clean and disinfect common surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, faucets, and countertops.
- Take care of yourself. Get enough rest and nutrition. Watch for COVID-19 symptoms.
Severe COVID-19 symptoms tend to affect older people or those with underlying conditions. But they can develop in anyone, so it's important to take a test if you think you have signs of the virus. If you have serious symptoms, see your doctor right away. To protect yourself and others from COVID-19, get vaccinated and limit contact with those who are infected.
COVID-19 Symptoms FAQs
What day do severe COVID-19 symptoms start?
Symptoms, whether they're mild or severe, usually show up 2-14 days after you're exposed to the virus.
When does COVID-19 peak in your body?
You'll have the most active illness in your body anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks after symptoms show up. But in very serious cases, this phase could last for months.
What are the symptoms of the newest COVID-19?
Newer versions of COVID-19, like the Omicron strain EG.5, tend to infect the upper respiratory tract. Common symptoms of the new COVID-19 variants include a runny nose, sore throat, and other symptoms similar to a cold. But people aged 65 and older and those with weak immune systems are more likely to have more serious symptoms affecting their lower respiratory tract.