If there’s one constant truth about the coronavirus, it’s that information about it right now is always evolving. That includes the symptoms you may experience if you’re infected.
Each person experiences the virus somewhat differently. And since the coronavirus is still relatively new to the medical world, experts are continuing to learn about how the virus behaves and what it does to a person’s body. Part of that includes discovering and vetting symptoms, some of which may not have been well-understood as a main part of the disease at the beginning of the pandemic.
So, as of this moment, what can you expect if you get sick? Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most discussed and understood symptoms ― which typically appear two to 14 days after you’ve been exposed to the virus ― and how common they might be.
(Note: You don’t need to have all of these symptoms to have COVID-19. Think of this as a menu of options, not a guarantee of everything.)
Fever, usually around or above 100 degrees, or chills.
Most cases of the coronavirus ― whether they’re considered “mild” and able to be monitored at home or they result in hospitalization ― will have a fever associated with it. You may also experience chills and body aches.
The temperature may land around 100.5 degrees or higher, and fevers on the higher side could be a sign of a serious case that requires immediate medical attention. During the recovery process, you may experience varying degrees of the fever.
Many people who are infected with COVID-19 will develop a cough, which is typically dry, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This symptom can also range from mild to severe, and some people may experience a sore or raw throat as a result.
Shortness of breath.
Shortness of breath has been on the CDC’s main list of symptoms since the beginning of the pandemic and remains one of the hallmark issues.
Many COVID-19 “long-haulers” (people who still experience effects from the disease after they’ve recovered) report struggling with this issue. Tasks that once weren’t difficult, such as climbing stairs or doing yoga, now lead to exhaustion and difficulty breathing.
If you have persistent pain or pressure in your chest, experience severe trouble breathing or start to get bluish lips, seek emergency medical care ASAP.
A new loss of taste or smell.
Perhaps one of the wildest and most disorienting parts of COVID-19 is the loss of taste and smell that can happen in many cases. This was considered a rarer symptom at the start of the pandemic, but was added to the CDC’s official list of symptoms earlier this summer.
“It’s estimated that around half of COVID-19 patients experience changes to their sense of taste and smell,” Chrissi Kelly, founder of the nonprofit patient advocacy group AbScent, previously told HuffPost. “Most will recover within two to three weeks, but many thousands are still working towards recovery many months later.”
Headaches or neurological problems.
A small preliminary study from China published in April found that some people with COVID-19 experienced problems that affected their central nervous systems. The main issue was headaches, which the CDC also added to their official symptom list in May. The research showed that some people also experienced dizziness and nerve pain.
Some reports suggest COVID-19 has led to other troubling brain problems in some patients, like psychosis and a dementia-like syndrome. A report published in the Lancet in November also suggests that 1 in 5 survivors of COVID-19 will develop a mental health condition ― such as anxiety, depression or insomnia ― within three months of being infected.
Diarrhea, nausea and vomiting could all be signs that you’ve been infected with the coronavirus, according to the CDC’s official symptom list. Some research shows that traces of the virus can be found in stool ― sometimes before other, more obvious symptoms even appear.
A range of skin issues.
Some people with COVID-19 have also reported skin problems such as hives or rashes. Skin-related issues can even show up in children with the disease, often as rashes that mimic Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory illness. These are not listed on the CDC’s official list of symptoms as of now, but experts have been noticing them appear in COVID-positive patients for a few months.
“Skin findings in patients with COVID-19 can be extraordinarily diverse,” Harold Lancer, a board-certified dermatologist, previously told HuffPost. “Hive-like rashes, itchy or not, are the most common. Blotchy, red, migrating spots have also been noted along with areas that look like inflamed eczema, seborrheic dermatitis or perioral dermatitis.”
Blood clots, pneumonia or other severe complications.
Doctors have also noticed that COVID-19 has led to blood clots in severe cases ― even in young people who may not otherwise be at high risk for the medical issue. This can lead to swollen toes (known as “COVID toes”), strokes and more serious problems. One study found that as many as a third of people in the intensive care unit because of COVID-19 experienced clotting. The virus has also been known to cause pneumonia and lung damage, which can lead to hospitalization.
Nothing at all.
That’s right: Sometimes the biggest, most common symptom is no symptom at all (at least as far as one can physically be aware of). Many people can experience asymptomatic COVID-19 and not even know they’re sick. This is arguably one of the more insidious forms of the disease because people could accidentally spread it without knowing.
It’s unknown exactly how many cases are asymptomatic. Some estimates have previously found that up to 80% of cases can be mild or asymptomatic. Other studies show that around 40 to 50% of cases may be attributed to asymptomatic people.
And being asymptomatic doesn’t mean you’re in the clear: Research is emerging that some people who initially had no symptoms appear to develop signs of minor lung inflammation, similar to walking pneumonia. They just might not realize it if they have no other physical symptoms.
Again, we’re still constantly learning new information about the coronavirus. Until there’s a solid treatment and/or vaccine, we all need to take proper precautions whether we’re showing any of these symptoms or not. Wear your mask, wash your hands and keep your distance.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.