COVID-19 is a respiratory condition caused by a coronavirus. Some people are infected but don’t notice any symptoms (doctors call that being asymptomatic). Most people will have mild symptoms and get better on their own. But some will have severe problems, such as trouble breathing. The odds of more serious symptoms are higher if you’re older or have another health condition like diabetes or heart disease.
Here’s what to look for if you think you might have COVID-19.
The most common things people who become ill with COVID-19 have 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
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
These symptoms can start anywhere from 2 to 14 days after you’re in contact with the virus.
Call a doctor or hospital right away if you have any of these issues:
If you have any of these, you need medical care as soon as possible, so 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. 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 antiviral drug remdesivir (Veklury) has been approved by the FDA for use in hospitalized people. Molnupiravir (Lagevrio) and nirmatrelvir with Ritonavir (Paxlovid) have been given emergency use authorization for treating COVID-19 and should be given orally as soon as possible.
The FDA has also authorized health care providers to use medications that aren’t yet approved for COVID-19, such as monoclonal antibodies, in some special cases.
Other COVID-19 Symptoms
COVID-19 can also cause problems including:
- Swollen eyes
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Coughing up blood
- Blood clots
- Heart problems
- Kidney damage
- Liver problems or damage
Some doctors have reported rashes tied to COVID-19, including purple or blue lesions on children’s toes and feet. Researchers are looking into these reports so they can understand the effect on people who have COVID-19.
Symptoms in Children
Researchers say kids have many of the same COVID-19 symptoms as adults, but they tend to be milder. Some children may be asymptomatic, but they can still spread the virus.
Common symptoms in children include:
- Shortness of breath
Some children and teens who are in the hospital with COVID-19 have an inflammatory syndrome that may be linked to the coronavirus. Doctors call it pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (PMIS). Symptoms include a fever, a rash, belly pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and heart problems. It’s similar to toxic shock or to Kawasaki disease, a condition in children that causes inflammation in blood vessels.
When to Get Tested for COVID-19
Get tested for COVID-19 if:
- You’ve had symptoms of the virus
- You’ve come into close contact with a person who has COVID-19 (take a test at least 5 days after you last saw the individual)
- 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 symptom of COVID-19, 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 the Coronavirus?
Most people with COVID-19 have a dry cough they can feel in their chest.
What to Do If You Think You Have Mild Symptoms
If you have milder 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, even 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 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 dip into 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
Several COVID-19 vaccines are available, and they’re the best way to protect yourself and those around you unless your doctor advises otherwise. Full vaccination lowers your chances of getting COVID-19.
The most accessible vaccines in the U.S. are:
- Pfizer: available for adults and children over the age of 6 months, primary series requires two doses, 3 weeks apart; those 6 months and older will receive a 3rd dose 8 weeks after the second dose.
- Moderna: available for ages 6 months and up, primary series requires two doses a month apart; everyone ages 2 and older should get a booster dose 5 months after the last dose in their primary series. A bivalent booster dose is recommended for children aged 6 months–4 years who completed the Moderna primary series and if it has been at least 2 months since their last dose.
- Novavax: available for those 12 and older, it requires two doses given three to eight weeks apart. Novavax can be used as a booster in people aged 12 years or older if no other COVID-19 vaccine brand is suitable for that person
- Johnson & Johnson: available for ages 18 and up, requires one dose; everyone ages 18 years and older should get a booster dose of either Pfizer or Moderna at least 2 months after the first dose of Johnson & Johnson
Talk with your doctor before getting the vaccine if you have immune system issues.
The CDC recently said there’s a clinical preference for people to get an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (either the Pfizer or Moderna one) or Novavax's protein-based vaccine over the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. This recommendation came after the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) discussed the latest data on vaccine effectiveness, vaccine safety, rare adverse side effects, and U.S. vaccine supply.
But the ACIP also said that any vaccine is better than no vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is still an option.
In addition, in the fall of 2022, CDC recommended a bivalent mRNA COVID-19 vaccine booster dose for persons aged 5 years and older to help combat the Omicron variant. The shot is administered at least 2 months after completing the primary series or after receipt of a monovalent booster dose.
The CDC also approved a bivalent booster for children aged 6 months–4 years who completed the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine primary series
And an updated (bivalent) Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine also became available on December 9, 2022, for children aged 6 months–4 years to complete the primary series.
Until you’re vaccinated, be sure to take these steps to prevent COVID-19:
- 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 who’s sick, 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 like 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.