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The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19. It can cause symptoms similar to those of other respiratory conditions, such as allergies or the flu.

This article looks at the symptoms of COVID-19, how they develop, and how to tell them from those of colds, the flu, and allergies.

It will also cover some home treatment options and when to contact a doctor.

an ill woman at home experiencing covid-19 symptomsShare on Pinterest
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Not everyone who has COVID-19 will have symptoms. If they do, symptoms may appear 2–14 days after exposure to the virus.

They include:

Some people recover after 2 weeks, but it can take much longer than this.

In a telephone survey that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) carried out, 35% of people had not returned to their usual state of health after 2–3 weeks, including 20% of those aged 18–34 years.

Learn more about how long it takes for symptoms to appear here.

Some people may also have:

In children, COVID-19 symptoms may be milder, but this is not always the case. Those with underlying health conditions, in particular, may be at risk of severe symptoms.

In this article, learn more about how the symptoms appear in children.

Symptoms can gradually become more severe. A person needs immediate medical help if they experience:

  • difficulty breathing
  • persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • a blue tinge to the face or lips
  • difficulty waking up or staying awake
  • worsening confusion
  • reduced consciousness

If these symptoms arise, someone should call 911 or help the person get to the local emergency room. Before going, someone should call and let them know that a person with suspected COVID-19 is on the way.

In some rare cases, severe neurological damage can occur, such as:

  • stroke
  • delirium
  • brain inflammation
  • nerve damage

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that around 1 in 5 people will need hospital treatment for severe symptoms, such as breathing difficulty. Around 1 in 20 will need critical care.

Coronaviruses primarily affect the respiratory system, but researchers have found that COVID-19 can impact all bodily systems.

Severe complications can arise, including:

There are growing concerns about long-term symptoms that can persist after a person has had COVID-19.

One CDC survey suggests that this can happen even when the person has no underlying health condition and did not have severe symptoms during the acute stage.

Long-term symptoms may include:

  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • neurological symptoms
  • cough

Learn more about the long-term impact of COVID-19 here.

The symptoms of COVID-19 can be similar to those of other respiratory conditions, such as colds, the flu, and seasonal allergies.

The main difference between COVID-19 and colds and the flu is that it causes shortness of breath but potentially no other symptoms.

People with asthma may find that a cold or the 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 dry cough and do not typically cause fever.

Below is a table of symptoms that can help people tell the difference between COVID-19 and other illnesses.

Is it COVID-19 or an allergy? Get some tips on telling the difference here.

How COVID-19 affects individuals varies widely, and there are still many things that experts do not know about the disease.

As a rough guideline, people may be able to expect the following:

DayWhat to expect
-2 to -14exposure to the virus
0symptoms appear
+7ARDS appears (in severe cases)
+9Around 5% of people need intensive care treatment.
+14 Many people with mild symptoms recover, though 1 in 5 previously healthy young adults may still have symptoms after 21 days or more.
+21 to +42average time for recovery for people who spend time in the hospital
+14 to +56average time to death in the most severe cases

Although this timeline may be broadly true, it is essential to know that a significant number of people continue to experience symptoms such as fatigue and breathing problems after recovering from the acute phase.

If complications arise, the person may develop long-term health issues, as irreversible damage may occur in some cases.

A person with mild-to-moderate symptoms should inform their doctor and then stay at home and rest.

They can use over-the-counter pain relief medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to relieve any discomfort.

Isolating and testing

It is easy to pass the virus to another person, even when there are no symptoms.

For this reason, people should isolate themselves if they:

  • have symptoms
  • believe that they have had exposure to the virus
  • receive a positive test result

This means staying at home and avoiding contact with others unless it is essential, such as when seeking medical care. If you need to go out, wear a face covering.

When possible, people should order their groceries online or ask friends or family to deliver food and supplies for them. Some areas have other resources for people who are self-isolating.

If a person believes that they may have had exposure to the virus, they should consider getting a test. State and local health department websites have information about testing facilities.

Home testing kits are available for purchase online. Check that the kit has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and follow all instructions carefully to prevent getting an incorrect result.

Learn more about testing here.

If a person has severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, someone should call a doctor or help the person get to the nearest emergency room, taking care to call ahead and let them know that someone with suspected COVID-19 is on the way.

The main symptoms of COVID-19 are dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath. However, there are also less common symptoms, and some people develop life threatening complications.

Many people with mild symptoms recover after 2–3 weeks, but symptoms can persist, even among young adults who were previously healthy.

For this reason, it is essential to prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible. If anyone has symptoms, they should monitor for changes and be ready to seek emergency help if necessary.