Most Common Symptoms of COVID-19 & When to Seek Help

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Its common symptoms are fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. You might also feel very tired, have muscle or body aches, or a headache.1 Loss of taste or smell, sore throat, and a runny nose can also happen. These symptoms show up between 2 and 14 days after you might have been exposed to the virus.1

Remember, certain signs mean you need to get medical help right away. These include trouble breathing, severe chest pain, and if your lips or face look bluish. If you can’t wake up or if you’re really confused, that’s also an emergency.1

Key Takeaways

  • The most common COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and loss of taste or smell.
  • Symptoms typically appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.
  • Severe symptoms like trouble breathing, persistent chest pain, and bluish lips require immediate medical attention.
  • Older adults and those with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness.
  • Getting vaccinated can help prevent the spread and serious complications of COVID-19.

Overview of COVID-19

COVID-19 is an illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It started in late 2019 and became a pandemic in 2020. This virus is part of a big family known for causing diseases like the common cold, SARS, MERS, and COVID-19.2

The main way COVID-19 spreads is through the air in tiny water droplets. This happens when people are close to each other.2

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a serious respiratory illness. It affects people differently, ranging from mild to severe symptoms.2

Older adults and those with certain health issues face a higher risk of severe illness.2

How COVID-19 Spreads

The virus mainly spreads through the air in droplets. This occurs when people are near each other.2

It can also spread by touching contaminated surfaces. However, this way is not the virus’s primary method of spreading.2

Severity of COVID-19 Illness

COVID-19 can cause symptoms that vary from mild to very severe.2

People with health issues or over 65 are more likely to become very ill from the virus.2

What are the symptoms of Covid 19

Common Symptoms

Fever or chills, dry cough, and shortness of breath are common signs of COVID-1913. You may also feel tired, have muscle aches, or a headache13. Loss of taste or smell, throat pain, and chest congestion are other signs143. Some might have stomach problems like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea143. These symptoms start showing within 2 to 14 days after catching the virus13.

Asymptomatic and Presymptomatic Cases

Some people with COVID-19 show no signs at all. This is known as being asymptomatic. But they can still spread the virus to others1. Others, even without symptoms, might later start showing them. This early period is called presymptomatic1.

covid 19 symptoms

Respiratory Symptoms

COVID-19 has key respiratory symptoms like a dry cough, shortness of breath, and trouble breathing.1 Many feel a dry cough in their chest first.1 It could lead to shortness of breath, making it hard to breathe, and needing more effort to take in air.1 Those with harder breathing might have a worse form of COVID-19.1

Dry Cough

A dry cough links strongly to COVID-19.1 It’s a cough without much mucus, occurring early and staying through the sickness.5

Shortness of Breath

Feeling a tight chest or not getting enough air might mean COVID-19.1 It comes with shortness of breath that can show a severe infection.5

Difficulty Breathing

Laboring to breathe is a red flag for COVID-19.1 It signals a severe condition where the virus badly affects the body.1 Anyone going through this should get help immediately.1

Other Common Symptoms

COVID-19 brings more than just breathing issues. It can also cause fever or chills. You might feel tired, have body aches, or a headache. Loss of taste or smell is another sign. You could also have a sore throat, stuffy nose, or stomach problems like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Fever is common but might be below 100°F. Feeling very tired and your muscles hurting are often noticed. If you can’t taste or smell well, it could be early COVID-19. Feeling sick to your stomach or having diarrhea might mean the virus too.

Fever or Chills

In adults, a fever means temperature is above 100.4 F orally. It’s higher, above 100.8 F, if taken rectally. This is a typical sign of COVID-196.


Feeling exhausted is a common sign of COVID-196.

Body Aches

COVID-19 can make your body, especially your muscles, hurt6.


Having a headache is often linked to COVID-196.

Loss of Taste or Smell

An inability to taste or smell well could be an early sign of the virus6.

Sore Throat

A sore throat is frequently reported with COVID-196.

Congestion or Runny Nose

COVID-19 might also show as a stuffy or runny nose6.

Nausea or Vomiting

Feeling queasy or throwing up could point to COVID-196.


other covid 19 symptoms

Symptoms in Children

COVID-19 symptoms in children are usually not as severe as in grown-ups. Still, the virus can cause problems for young ones. Most children with COVID-19 have milder symptoms than adults7. Some kids may not even seem sick7. But, children aged 2 to 15 with COVID-19 might develop a rare severe condition. It’s called MIS-C. This can happen up to six weeks after coming into contact with the virus7.

COVID-19 cases in kids have been going up. In November 2021, the Pfizer vaccine was okayed for children from 5 years old7. Babies younger than 1 have a bigger chance of severe symptoms if they catch COVID-197. Even newborns can get the virus from their caregivers7. Luckily, most newborns with COVID-19 show mild symptoms or none at all7.

Pregnant women are more at risk of serious COVID-19 and early birth7. And, kids can spread the virus even if they don’t feel sick7.

The common COVID-19 symptoms in children are fever, cough, and hard breathing8. Some may get a condition called PMIS. It brings fever, rash, tummy pain, and heart issues8.

Keeping kids current on COVID-19 vaccines helps avoid Long COVID. This is when symptoms last for months after getting sick9. Remember, your child could have COVID-19 even without a fever. Less than half of kids with COVID-19 actually get fevers9.

Emergency Warning Signs

Factual data shows several signs need immediate attention for COVID-19.6 These include breathing difficulties, persistent chest pain, and more.10 If someone has new confusion, trouble waking up, or their lips turn blue, they need to see a doctor now.10

Trouble Breathing

It’s important to note that breathing problems can signal a serious COVID-19 case.6 In children, look out for quick breaths, chest pain, a blue tint around the mouth, and retracted ribs while breathing.10

Persistent Chest Pain

Feeling constant pain or pressure in the chest requires quick medical care.6 For kids, chest discomfort could indicate a severe case.10

New Confusion

If someone gets suddenly confused, it might be a sign of a serious COVID-19 issue.6 This cognitive change is considered a major warning signal for both adults and children.10

Inability to Wake or Stay Awake

If someone can’t wake up or stay alert, they need medical help right away.6

Bluish Lips or Face

A blue color on the lips or face indicates a critical situation.6 Even in children, bluish signs are serious warning symptoms.10

Seeing any of these signs, call 911 or head to the emergency room.6 Tell the staff you suspect COVID-19.6

Symptoms of COVID-19 Variants

The COVID-19 pandemic’s evolution brought many new viral variants. Each variant has its unique symptoms. Knowing these differences can help people understand and react to COVID-19 changes.11

Omicron Variant Symptoms

The Omicron variant causes milder symptoms than previous ones. It often leads to a sore throat, runny nose, and cold symptoms. But, it doesn’t often cause severe lower respiratory symptoms. These include wheezing, a bad cough, or high fever.12

Delta Variant Symptoms

The Delta variant, on the other hand, brings different symptoms. These can be a runny nose, fever, sore throat, and headache. Oddly, less coughing and smell/taste loss might happen with Delta. This is unlike the earlier virus kinds.12

With the COVID-19 virus still changing, keeping up with symptom differences is key. This info helps people spot COVID-19 early. And it guides them to get the right medical help. This aids in the fight against COVID-19.11

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms, knowing when to seek help is crucial.13 The CDC says to call 911 for emergencies. This includes trouble breathing, chest pain, new confusion, or bluish lips.13

If you think you caught COVID-19 and need testing, reach out to a doctor.14 Those at high risk, like the elderly, those with health issues, or pregnant women, might get special medicines. These can reduce the virus’s spread.14

After coming into contact with COVID-19, symptoms might start showing in 5 to 6 days.14 With mild cases, you might just have a cough, fever, or notice a change in smell or taste.14 If symptoms get worse, you could feel very exhausted, have a high fever, and not want to drink.14 Severe cases might have you finding it hard to breathe, feel chest pain, or your skin might change color.14

Children with COVID-19 might feel a little breathless but can still talk and eat. They might not drink much and have a high fever.14 For kids in bad shape, they might make a high-pitched noise when breathing, struggle to breathe, or show blue skin around the mouth.14 A skin rash might happen in either children or adults. If you notice this, see a doctor.14

Getting medical help quickly is key in dealing with COVID-19. It’s also vital for stopping the virus’s spread, especially for those most at risk.1413 Knowing the signs and getting help fast can save lives. It helps protect you and your family.13

Long-Term Effects of COVID-19

Some folks still feel sick or have new problems long after catching COVID-19. We call this post-COVID-19 syndrome or long COVID. It’s a real issue after getting sick with the virus, which experts continue to research. Getting your vaccine may stop these long-term problems from happening. 1

Post-COVID-19 Syndrome

Your chances of developing post-COVID-19 issues are about 1 in 5 or 6 for young adults. For those older, it’s about 1 in 3 or 4. Older folks are more likely to have these health issues.15 These issues can involve many different symptoms that last more than a month.15

Symptoms like tiredness, getting worse after activities, and lung problems are common. Plus, you might also have memory or taste changes. These symptoms can stick around for a long time, even years.15 They can affect anyone who had COVID-19, not just those with severe cases.16

If you haven’t received the COVID-19 vaccine, you could be more at risk of getting these long-lasting symptoms.16 Also, if you get COVID-19 again, you could suffer from Long COVID more frequently. In July 2021, the U.S. recognized Long COVID as a disability.16

Long COVID symptoms are different for everyone. They range from tiredness and breathing troubles to issues with thinking or tasting.16 Some folks might have symptoms that doctors find hard to explain or treat. They might seem like those of other chronic diseases.16 People who had very bad COVID-19 could have problems with their organs or immune system for some time.16

Having had a severe COVID-19 case, being unvaccinated, or having health problems before can raise your Long COVID risk.16 Some groups, like minorities or disabled individuals, might also have a greater risk. Vaccines can help prevent Long COVID. People who get vaccinated and still get sick are less likely to have these long-term symptoms.16

Risk Factors for Severe Illness


People 65 and older are more likely to need hospital care for COVID-19.17 They face a 25 to 340 times higher risk of death than those younger.17 Infants under 6 months have a high risk too.1

Underlying Medical Conditions

Health issues like heart problems or diabetes can make COVID-19 more serious.17 It may lead to needing ICU care or even death.17 Conditions such as asthma or cancer also raise the risk.17

Prevention and Treatment

To avoid and fight COVID-19, follow some key steps, say experts. The CDC advises everyone 5 and older to get the latest COVID-19 vaccine. This shot is very good at lowering the chance of getting very sick or dying from the omicron variant, says the IDSA.18

COVID-19 Vaccines

Getting vaccinated, including a booster, is the top way to shield yourself from bad COVID-19 or getting it again. You can get sick with COVID-19 more than once. Three months after a first round, a positive test counts as a new infection. The Omicron variant, found first in South Africa in 2021, can bypass our immune system better, leading to more cases of a second infection.19

Antiviral Treatments

Alongside vaccines, there are meds that can help fight COVID-19. Drugs like remdesivir and others stop the virus from spreading and make the sickness less severe. They work best if taken soon after you start feeling sick.

Precautions for Caregivers

If you’re looking after someone who might have COVID-19, keep your contact to a minimum. Make sure they wear a good mask and don’t share their stuff.1 It also helps to wash your hands a lot, stay away from others as much as you can, and wear your mask properly when you’re out. These simple steps can slow the virus.19

Distinguishing COVID-19 from Other Illnesses

COVID-19, the common cold, the flu, and allergies can seem similar at first. But there are important differences.

COVID-19 might cause fever, severe tiredness, and body pain. You might also feel short of breath and lose your taste or smell.20 The common cold won’t give you intense fatigue or a high fever.21 The flu, on the other hand, often comes with a high fever and severe symptoms.21 Allergies generally don’t cause fever and body aches.20

COVID-19 symptoms show up about 5 days after catching the virus, but it can take up to 14 days.20 The flu, by comparison, kicks in about 1 to 4 days later.20 Allergies act fast, showing symptoms right after you come into contact with allergens like dust or pollen.20

One big sign of COVID-19 is losing your sense of taste or smell. 38% to 55% of patients have had this.22 Around 40% lose their sense of smell.22 This isn’t common with the flu or allergies.

Even though symptoms can overlap, it’s crucial to know these differences. This helps you figure out if you might have COVID-19, the flu, a cold, or allergies. Then, you can get the right medical help.


The data we discussed covers the main symptoms of COVID-19. This includes things like a dry cough and trouble breathing. You might also experience fever, fatigue, or problems with taste and smell. Digestive issues are common too.19 Knowing these symptoms is vital for early detection.

It’s important to understand COVID-19 symptoms and when to call a doctor.19 On average, symptoms show up about five days after catching the virus. But it can take anywhere from two to 14 days to appear.19 Reinflection with SARS-CoV-2 was uncommon, until the Omicron variant arrived. Now, the risk of reinfection is higher due to Omicron’s immune evasion.19

Getting vaccinated, including a booster, is our best defense against severe COVID-19.19 It’s critical to stay alert to symptoms and seek help promptly when needed. Doing so helps control the virus and protect those around you.19,23


What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a virus, the SARS-CoV-2. It’s from the same family as the common cold. It started spreading in late 2019 and quickly became a global pandemic in 2020.

How does COVID-19 spread?

This virus mainly spreads through the air. It moves in small droplets when someone talks, coughs, or sneezes near you.

How severe can COVID-19 illness be?

The illness’ seriousness varies. It can cause mild to severe issues, especially for older adults and those with health problems.

What are the common symptoms of COVID-19?

Common signs of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and trouble breathing. You might also feel tired, have body aches, or lose your sense of taste or smell. Stomach issues like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are possible too.

Can some people be asymptomatic or presymptomatic with COVID-19?

Yes, it’s possible to have this virus and not feel sick right away. This is called being asymptomatic. Even then, you can still pass the virus to others. Or, you might not have symptoms yet but can spread it. This is called being presymptomatic.

What are the key respiratory symptoms of COVID-19?

The main respiratory signs are a dry cough, trouble breathing, and shortness of breath. These are signs that your lungs may be affected.

What other common symptoms can COVID-19 cause?

Besides respiratory symptoms, you might get chills, feel tired, or have a headache. Losing your sense of taste and smell, sore throat, and stomach issues can also happen.

How do COVID-19 symptoms in children differ from adults?

Children usually have milder symptoms but can still spread the virus. They might get a fever, cough, or have trouble breathing. Some might have a rare condition called PMIS.

What are the emergency warning signs for COVID-19?

Signs needing immediate care include trouble breathing, chest pain, or feeling very confused. If you can’t wake up or you have blue lips or face, seek help at once.

How do the symptoms differ between COVID-19 variants?

The Omicron variant often causes mild symptoms like a sore throat or runny nose. The Delta variant might give you a fever and sore throat. Sore throat is common with both.

When should I seek medical attention for COVID-19 symptoms?

Call your doctor if you think you have COVID-19 or were near someone with it. Emergency symptoms like severe chest pain or confusion need immediate help.

Can COVID-19 lead to long-term effects?

Some people might have symptoms for a long time after getting COVID-19. This is known as long COVID. They could also get new symptoms.

What are the risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness?

Risk factors for a bad case of COVID-19 include being older, having certain health problems, or not being vaccinated.

How can I prevent and treat COVID-19?

You can protect yourself by getting vaccinated, washing your hands often, and wearing a mask. If you get sick, some medicines can help fight the virus.

How do the symptoms of COVID-19 differ from other illnesses?

COVID-19 can feel a lot like a cold or the flu but worse. It often includes fever, extreme tiredness, body aches, and trouble breathing. It’s also more likely to affect your sense of taste and smell than other illnesses.

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