COVID-19 is a respiratory condition caused by a coronavirus. Some people are infected but don’t notice any symptoms. Most people will have mild symptoms and get better on their own. But about 1 in 6 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 asthma.
Here’s what to look for if you think you might have COVID-19.
Common symptoms, which most often begin 2 to 14 days after you come into contact with the virus, include:
- Cough, usually dry but sometimes with thick phlegm
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Body aches
Other symptoms may include:
If you have any of these symptoms, 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. If you have symptoms and are at high risk of complications because of your age or other health conditions, call your doctor in addition to isolating yourself.
Call a doctor or hospital right away if you have one or more of these COVID-19 symptoms:
You need medical care as soon as possible. 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 patients.
Lab tests can tell if COVID-19 is what’s causing your symptoms. But the tests can be hard to find, and there’s no treatment if you do have the disease. So you don’t need to get tested if you have no symptoms or only mild ones. Call your doctor or your local health department if you have questions.
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 14 days. Keep track of the readings. A fever is the most common symptom of COVID-19, but it’s sometimes below 100 F.
What Kind of Cough Is Common?
Early studies have found that at least 60% of people with COVID-19 have a dry cough. About a third have a cough with mucus, called a “wet” or “productive” cough.
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
Rare COVID-19 Symptoms
It’s rare, but COVID-19 can also cause problems beyond your lungs. These may include:
- Loss of smell or taste
- Swollen eyes
- Coughing up blood
- Heart problems
- Liver problems or damage
Is It COVID-19, the Flu, a Cold, or Allergies?
Since they share so many symptoms, it can be hard to know which condition you have. But there are a few guidelines that can help.
You may have COVID-19 if you have a fever and trouble breathing, along with the symptoms listed above.
If you don’t have problems breathing, it might be the flu. You should still isolate yourself just in case.
If you don’t have a fever and your eyes aren’t itchy, it’s probably a cold.
How to Protect Yourself
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 to soap and water handy.
- 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.