This article was updated to include information about home testing kits on April 27, 2020.
The symptoms section of this article was updated on May 19, 2020.
The novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, causes a disease called COVID-19. This can produce symptoms similar to those of other respiratory conditions, such as allergies or the flu.
This article looks at the symptoms of COVID-19 and how to tell them apart from those of colds, flus, and allergies.
It will also cover some home treatments and when to see a doctor.
The primary symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- a dry cough
- a fever
- shortness of breath
Symptoms may appear 2–14 days after exposure to the virus. Some people might also experience other symptoms, such as:
People may have mild symptoms to start with, which might gradually become more severe.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 1 in 6 people experience serious symptoms of COVID-19, such as breathing difficulties.
On the other hand, some people may have the virus but feel well and not experience any symptoms at all.
The symptoms of COVID-19 can be similar to those of other respiratory conditions, such as colds, flus, and seasonal allergies.
The main difference between COVID-19 and colds and flus is that it causes shortness of breath but potentially no other symptoms.
People with asthma may find that a cold or flu worsens their condition, however. This can also cause shortness of breath.
Although allergies can cause some symptoms similar to those of COVID-19, they rarely cause a dry cough and do not typically cause a fever.
Below is a table of symptoms that can help people tell the difference between COVID-19 and other illnesses.
People can take the following steps to help protect themselves and others from COVID-19:
- Practice physical distancing and avoid close contact with others, particularly if they have any symptoms of COVID-19.
- Wash the hands regularly with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If this is not possible, use a hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching the face.
- Cover all coughs and sneezes and dispose of used tissues straight away.
- Clean and disinfect household surfaces, such as door handles and countertops, each day.
- Avoid all nonessential travel.
Certain groups of people are more at risk of developing a serious illness due to COVID-19. This includes:
- older people, especially those aged 65 and over
- people with underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart conditions, or high blood pressure
- people with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV
- people with asthma
People in a high risk group will need to take extra care to stay home and avoid close contact with others.
If a person has symptoms of COVID-19, they will need to self-isolate. This means staying home and avoiding contact with others unless it is essential, such as when buying food or seeking medical care.
If a person with symptoms of COVID-19 needs to go out or be around others in the home, they should wear a face mask to prevent spreading the virus.
People can ask friends or family to deliver food and supplies for them, or they can order groceries online. Some areas have other resources for people who are self-isolating.
A person should call a doctor if they have a fever, a cough, and difficulty breathing.
It is vital to call ahead before going in person. This can help healthcare staff prepare facilities to prevent the spread of the virus.
Seeking medical care quickly can help reduce the risk of an infection becoming more severe. People should also be sure to tell the doctor about any recent trips they have taken and any close contact they have had with someone who might have the virus.
If a person has any of the following symptoms, they should call 911 or seek immediate medical help:
- pressure or pain in the chest
- a new state of confusion
- a blue tinge to the lips or face
- difficulty breathing
On April 21, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the first COVID-19 home testing kit. Using the cotton swab provided, people will be able to collect a nasal sample and mail it to a designated laboratory for testing.
The emergency use authorization specifies that the test kit is authorized for use by people who healthcare professionals have identified as having suspected COVID-19.
According to the WHO, around 80% of people recover from COVID-19 without needing specialist treatment.
People may be able to treat mild symptoms of COVID-19 at home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise the following steps for home treatment:
- self-isolating, which means staying home and away from public places and other people, unless seeking medical care
- getting plenty of rest
- drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
- calling ahead before visiting a doctor
- covering the face when coughing or sneezing, and disposing of tissues straight away
- washing the hands regularly for 20 seconds with soap and warm water, or using a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- wearing a face mask in the presence of others
- cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that people frequently touch, such as faucets, door handles, and countertops
- if sharing a home with others, staying in a separate room as much as possible, and using a separate bathroom if possible
- not sharing items such as toothbrushes, utensils, towels, or bedding
Some people may choose to take acetaminophen to relieve aches, pains, and fever.
People should monitor their symptoms carefully to make sure that they do not get worse. If the symptoms become severe, call a doctor.
If a person has severe symptoms or any complications related to COVID-19, they may require hospital treatment. Most people will recover with supportive medical care.
There is currently no set treatment or medication to prevent or cure COVID-19. Antibiotics do not work against SARS-CoV-2, as it is a virus. Also, there is currently no vaccine or antiviral treatment effective against the novel coronavirus.
Healthcare professionals are working to relieve people’s symptoms and treat any complications. Treatment will therefore depend on the severity of the illness and whether or not the person has any underlying health conditions.
If COVID-19 severely affects the respiratory system and vital organs, a person may require support for breathing and organ function.
It is important to be able to recognize the main symptoms of COVID-19. These are a dry cough, a fever, and shortness of breath.
People may be able to treat mild symptoms of COVID-19 at home. If they notice more serious symptoms or belong to an at risk group, they can call their doctor.
For severe symptoms, a person should seek medical care immediately. They should also inform a healthcare provider that they might have COVID-19, to help them take the necessary precautions.
Taking steps such as hand washing, physical distancing, and self-isolating when sick can help people protect themselves and others.