What are the Symptoms of COVID-19?

Anyone can have mild to severe symptoms. Older adults and individuals of any age with underlying medical conditions, such as lung disease, seem to be at higher risk for developing severe complications from COVID-19.

These symptoms, or combinations of symptoms, generally appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus and may prompt you to suspect you have COVID-19:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fever or chills
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Congestion or sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are new, severe, or concerning to you.

The CDC has an online Symptom Self Checker that will help you make decisions and seek medical care.

When to Call Your Healthcare Provider

If you develop symptoms that you think may be caused by COVID-19 or have been around someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19, you should call your healthcare provider to discuss your situation. While determining if you have been exposed, protect yourself and others by not leaving the house unless you are told to by your doctor it is safe to do so or you are having a medical emergency.

Seek Emergency Care if you start having trouble breathing, experience pain or pressure in your chest, develop a bluish tinge to your lips or face or are noticed to have new confusion or inability to wake or stay awake.

Diagnosing COVID-19

There are two kinds of tests available to diagnose COVID-19: tests for current infection (viral tests) and tests for past infection (antibody tests). The tests each perform a separate function. Your doctor may order a viral test to diagnose your illness if they suspect that you have COVID-19. If your doctor believes you were previously infected, they may order an antibody test to confirm.

Viral tests use respiratory samples, such as a swab from inside your nose, to determine if you are currently infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Depending on the testing site, results may be available within a few hours or may take several days if the sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis.

If you think you have been exposed to the virus and are exhibiting symptoms, speak to your healthcare provider to determine if you should be tested. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed guidance for who should be tested, including:

  • Individuals with signs or symptoms of COVID-19
  • Individuals with no symptoms (are asymptomatic) with known or suspected exposure to SARS-CoV-2
  • Individuals with no symptoms (are asymptomatic) without known or suspected exposure to SARS-CoV-2 for early identification in certain settings (such as nursing homes)
  • Individuals being tested to determine resolution of a prior positive test
  • Individuals tested for purposes of public health surveillance

Results from your viral test will indicate that you either:

  • Test positive for COVID-19 with next steps including monitoring your symptoms, watching for emergency medical signs, engaging in home isolation and maintaining close communication with your healthcare provider.
  • Test negative for COVID-19, which means you were not infected at the time the sample was collected and analyzed. This doesn’t mean that you won’t get sick, only that you didn’t have COVID-19 when you were tested. You can think of this like a single snapshot in time that doesn’t determine if you had COVID-19 previously or if you will be exposed and infected in the future. If you later experience symptoms, or have close contact with an infected individual, you should speak with your doctor to determine if you need another test.

Antibody tests are performed by drawing blood and conducting a laboratory test to check for antibodies that would only be present if you had a past infection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. An antibody test should not be used to determine current infection as it can take your body one to three weeks after infection to make antibodies.

If you think you were previously infected with COVID-19, you should speak with your doctor about your symptoms or exposure to infected individuals.

Results from your antibody test will indicate that you either:

  • If you test positive you were previously infected with COVID-19. You should continue to take steps to prevent a future COVID-19 infection. Researchers do not yet know if you are protected from being infected again.
  • If you test negative you have likely not been previously infected with COVID-19. You should continue to take steps to prevent a future COVID-19 infection.

Our Lung HelpLine is answering questions about COVID-19. Contact our Lung HelpLine by calling 1-800-LUNGUSA or submitting a question online.

Page last updated: July 22, 2020

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