Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
Overview of COVID symptoms
- There’s a wide spectrum of COVID symptoms that can range from mild to severe.
- New symptoms are being identified and reported with new COVID variants.
- In some instances, COVID symptoms new symptoms can appear or continue 3 months after the initial infection and last at least an additional 2 months, known as long COVID.
- People who have certain underlying or pre-existing conditions may be at risk for severe COVID symptoms.
When it comes to COVID-19 symptoms, you want to know what they are, how long they last and how severe they may be. However, since COVID first appeared, it has confounded medical professionals with its wide range of symptoms. Adding to the complexity, new symptoms are reported with each new COVID-19 variant. ref1
While some will experience only a few symptoms, others will have many at once. Stranger still, some people who test positive for COVID never experience any symptoms. This is known as being asymptomatic.
As wide as the range of symptoms for COVID, so is the severity of the disease from one person to the next. You may only have a mild case of the disease, or your symptoms can be intense and even life-threatening, referred to as severe COVID. The duration of symptoms is just as individualized. Most will only experience symptoms for a few days to a couple of weeks, while others can suffer for months and even years, which is now known as long COVID.
No matter how mild or severe your symptoms of COVID are, it’s important to remember that if you test positive for COVID, you’re at risk of spreading the virus to others.
What are the common symptoms of COVID?
Some hallmark symptoms of the condition are similar to those of other acute respiratory infections. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes these as the ones most common symptoms related to COVID:1
- Fever or chills: The range of this high temperature may vary but is usually mild to moderate. Although a fever is a normal body reaction when fighting off an infection, the effects can be uncomfortable.
- Cough: A dry, non-productive cough is common in individuals with COVID. It may cause irritation and difficulty in breathing.
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing: Shortness of breath can range from mild to severe, depending on the severity of your infection. Difficulty breathing is a sign that you’re likely having a more serious reaction to the virus.
- Fatigue: Fatigue can be mild or severe, lasting for multiple days. It could feel like exhaustion that doesn’t seem to go away, even after you’ve had enough rest.
- Muscle or body aches: Muscle and body aches can range from mild to severe and may become worse as the virus progresses.
- Headache: Headaches can range from moderate to severe. They may be accompanied by other symptoms such as fatigue, fever, or general malaise.
- Loss of taste or smell: This is one of the more common symptoms of COVID and can last for several weeks after your initial infection.
- Sore throat: A sore throat could indicate that you’re infected with COVID. It can range from mild to severe and may cause discomfort when swallowing.
- Congestion or runny nose: Congestion is another symptom of COVID and is often accompanied by a runny nose.
- Nausea or vomiting: Nausea and vomiting may occur if the virus has affected your digestive system.
- Diarrhea: Diarrhea can be a sign that the virus has reached your digestive system, causing disruptions in its normal functioning.
What are some of the less common or new COVID symptoms?
Scientists and medical professionals are still learning about COVID characteristics and effects on the human body. Indeed, the knowledge of COVID-19 symptoms has evolved as the pandemic has progressed, and new variants bring along new symptoms.
Some of the less common or new COVID symptoms that people have reported include:
- Loss of appetite. This can range from mild to severe.
- Skin rashes. They appear as discolored skin patches and may be accompanied by itching or burning sensations.
- Confusion, disorientation, or difficulty concentrating. They can happen due to fever or other symptoms or potentially from the virus itself.
- Menstrual irregularities. Women may experience missed periods or changes in the flow and duration of their period. This can be due to an underlying inflammatory response caused by the virus.
- Eye irritation or redness. This may worsen over time so it's important to seek medical attention if this symptom persists for more than a few days.
- Respiratory distress. It may include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, or labored breathing.
- Tongue discoloration. It could be accompanied by white patches on the tongue, which may indicate an underlying inflammatory response.
- Night sweats. They can occur as a sign that your body is fighting off infection, and you may also experience other symptoms such as chills, fever, and body aches.
- Extreme fatigue. You may also experience other symptoms at the same time, such as dizziness, confusion, and difficulty concentrating.
- Stomach pain or cramps. This can be a sign of the virus and may worsen over time. It's important to seek medical attention if the pain persists for more than a few days.
- Joint or muscle stiffness. This may worsen over time, and pain, tenderness, or swelling in the affected area could also occur.
- Dizziness. This can range from mild to severe and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as fatigue, confusion, or difficulty concentrating.
Usually, these symptoms will appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. The disease course is mild to moderate in most people, with symptoms improving after about 1 or 2 weeks.
What are severe COVID symptoms?
In rare cases, you may experience severe symptoms due to COVID. According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of developing severe COVID may increase for older patients. People who have underlying or pre-existing conditions may also have a higher risk of developing severe COVID. Some conditions related to an increased risk include heart or lung conditions, weakened immune systems, obesity, or diabetes.
Anyone experiencing these severe COVID symptoms should seek immediate medical help:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure on the chest
- Inability to stay awake
- Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin
What are long COVID symptoms?
In some cases, your symptoms of COVID can persist beyond the infection period. These are known as post COVID symptoms or long COVID symptoms. Other names for long COVID symptoms include:
- Long-haul COVID
- Post-acute COVID-19
- Post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC)
- Long-term effects of COVID
- Chronic COVID
According to the CDC, about 7.5% of US adults who were infected with the virus have long COVID symptoms, meaning symptoms that last 3 months or more. Long COVID symptoms are more common in people suffering from severe COVID-19 illness, but anyone with the virus can develop long COVID.2
The most common long COVID 19 symptoms that people report include:
- Extreme tiredness
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Difficulty sleeping
- Heart palpitations
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Depression and anxiety
- Feeling sick
- Changes to smell or taste
- Rashes (symptoms in adults and children)
- A cough
- Earaches or tinnitus
- Diarrhea or stomach pain
- Changes in the menstrual cycle
If you think you might be suffering from long COVID, contact your doctor to find out more about possible treatment options.
We’re 3 years into the pandemic, and there’s still a lot that the medical community is learning about COVID symptoms. Symptoms that were common with the first wave of COVID may not be as prevalent in newer variants.
Regardless, it’s important to understand the symptoms of COVID so you can get tested if any signs or symptoms of the virus appear and start the correct treatment regimen at home or with the help of your healthcare professional.
Q: How long do COVID symptoms last?
A: The duration of COVID symptoms varies from one case to the next. On average, most symptoms clear after a few days to a few weeks. Less commonly, symptoms may persist for 3 months or more, known as long COVID.
Q: Are COVID symptoms in kids different?
A: Kids can experience the same COVID symptoms as adults, but they’re more likely to experience milder symptoms than adults.
Q: Why do some people get severe COVID symptoms?
A: Some individuals may be more susceptible to experiencing uncommon symptoms due to underlying health conditions or a compromised immune system.