Do you have COVID-19? Know the critical signs and symptoms

Woman with heaviness in chest

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

Why is COVID-19 serious?

The COVID-19 global pandemic has taken the world by storm, affecting millions of people worldwide. It has left a trail of death and debilitation, causing acute panic and fear among people. What makes the disease life threatening?

The COVID-19 or Coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2 is an acute respiratory condition with symptoms very similar to common flu, cold, and cough that makes it almost undetectable during the first few days of the infection. Therefore, it is very important to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19 and seek timely medical assistance.

Broad classification of symptoms of COVID-19

Is it easy to spot the symptoms of COVID-19? Let us discuss the common signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

In most cases, the patients are asymptomatic. To explain further, an asymptomatic patient does not exhibit any clear sign or indication of the infection. This makes detection of Covid-19 very challenging for both the patient and the Doctor.

The symptoms of COVID-19 depend on the classification or stage of the illness such as:

  • Asymptomatic
  • Mild to moderate
  • Severe

These are broad classifications and treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms.

Asymptomatic patients

Typically, an asymptomatic patient has no symptoms of the disease. Asymptomatic patients are often carriers of the disease and unknowingly may transmit the disease to other healthy people such as family members, friends, or neighbors. Some patients may show mild symptoms such as ‘loss of smell’.  Children and younger people are mostly asymptomatic and antigen tests for those at risk (exposed to the virus) will help detect the disease.

Mild to moderate symptoms

Most COVID-19 patients experience mild to moderate symptoms. In such cases, the virus affects the upper respiratory tract. Most of the symptoms are quite similar to flu or common cold and are difficult to differentiate. Some of the symptoms are:

Woman suffering a cold
  • Mild fever generally less than 37.8 degrees Celsius
  • Runny nose and sore throat accompanied by a dry cough
  • Headache and muscle pain
  • Tiredness and fatigue but patients may have no difficulty completing household chores or office work
  • Some patients may feel down, lethargic, demotivated, or depressed

When the symptoms are mild and moderate, patients do not experience any loss of appetite. They may not complain of any digestive problems too.  Further, their breathing will also be normal without any apparent difficulty

Generally, people with mild to moderate symptoms may successfully recover from the disease with treatment and precaution at home.

Severe or critical symptoms

Many people may experience severe symptoms and may require immediate medical help and hospitalization. Some of the critical symptoms are:

breathing difficulty in male patient
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Persistent pain and pressure on the chest
  • Confusion and dilemma
  • Bluish tinge on the face or lips due to a lack of oxygen

There are reports of worsening of patients with critical symptoms. One of the major fallout is stroke among those with worsening symptoms of COVID-19.  If patients exhibit the following symptoms, it could be a sign of stroke:

  • Blurry speech or difficulty speaking
  • Numbness on one side of the face
  • Weakness or numbness in arms

This is a medical emergency. Seek medical assistance immediately for a positive prognosis of the disease.

What are the first symptoms of the disease?

The first symptoms of COVID-19 are not the same for all people. Generally, during the onset of the infection, people may experience mild sore throat along with dry cough, fever, chills, and headaches. Some people also report mild shortness of breath and fatigue.

How long does it take for the symptoms to appear?

The symptoms of COVID-19 may appear between 2 to 14 days of infection. It varies from person to person.

Day wise progression of symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID-19 may progress in the following manner with each passing day.

Day 1 – The infected person may experience a sore throat and dry cough accompanied by fever. Patients may also experience tiredness, fatigue, and muscle pain. Some patients also complain of diarrhea and nausea after two days of the onset of the infection.

Day 2 – Older patients and people with some medical conditions may experience breathlessness or shortness of breath.

Day 7 – By day 7, the symptoms may worsen. Antigen tests detect the presence of infection and patients may seek medical help or undergo treatment at home. Some patients may need admission to a hospital.

Day 8 – By this time, the condition of the patients may deteriorate and some patients may develop ARDS or acute respiratory distress syndrome. This happens when fluid is collected in the lungs and can be fatal for the patient. The patient may find it difficult to breathe and may need a ventilator to assist the breathing process.

Day 10 – During this time, some patients may not recover or may need intensive care. They may experience abdominal pain and loss of appetite. Some patients also die during this phase.

Day 17 – Most patients recover fully from the disease and can go home from the hospital.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 that needs emergency medical care?

Some symptoms need immediate medical care and hospitalization. If you are experiencing the following symptoms, call your doctor now.

Woman experiencing pressure on the chest

These symptoms can be fatal without timely and adequate medical care. Explain your symptoms in detail to the medical care professional to avail the best possible treatment.

Similarities and differences between COVID-19 and Influenza (Flu)

One of the biggest challenges of detecting the coronavirus or COVID-19 disease is because of its similarity with influenza or flu. Many patients ignore the symptoms during the first few days due to its similarity with influenza and the common cold.

Similarities between COVID-19 and flu:

  • Both are respiratory diseases and can be mild to fatal and can even cause death
  • Both diseases transmit through physical contact, coughing, and sneezing, fomites, droplets, etc.
  • Fever and chills
  • Cough and sore throat
  • Body aches and muscle pain
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea and vomiting, though this is less common with the flu. However, some children may experience both.

Differences between COVID-19 and flu:

  • COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and flu is caused by the influenza virus
  • Influenza spreads faster than coronavirus and may spread between 1 to 3 days of the infection
  • The incubation period of COVID-19 is 2 to 14 days and for flu, it is 1 to 4 days
  • The onset of symptoms is gradual in COVID-19 whereas the symptoms appear almost immediately in flu
  • The severity of the disease is high in COVID-19 and can be fatal compared to influenza or common flu. Coronavirus patients may take more than 14 days and even a month to recover from the disease. Flu generally subsides within 3 to 7 days of the onset of the infection
  • Asymptomatic coronavirus patients may also spread the disease. All patients suffering from flu exhibit the symptoms that are easy to detect
  • Influenza is more common in children than in adults. Coronavirus mostly occurs in adults and is fatal for older people.
  • Chances of secondary infections or reappearance of the disease is higher in coronavirus than influenza.
  • Symptoms like loss of smell and taste are less common in influenza

Symptoms in children and babies

No one is immune to COVID-19. Even children and babies can be infected with the fatal disease. The good news is that the symptoms are generally mild in children or asymptomatic. However, children and babies can be carriers and spread the disease in healthy individuals. If your child has the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle pains
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste
  • Fatigue
  • Runny nose
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Confusion
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Some children may become cranky and anxious due to the discomfort

Symptoms of COVID-19 in pregnant and breastfeeding women

Pregnant women hospitalized for delivery are among the most susceptible to the coronavirus disease. Many new mothers and their newborn babies are at high risk of contracting the disease from hospitals and medical centers. Breast-feeding mothers can also transmit the disease to their babies. This is why it is extremely crucial to take good care and utmost precaution to prevent exposure to the disease. Symptoms are common such as:

  • Fever and chills
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sore throat and dry cough
  • Headache
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Muscle pain

These are the warning signs and immediate medical care can aid a better outcome of the disease.

Unusual symptoms of COVID-19

Most of the COVID-19 patients show symptoms that are common to respiratory illnesses. However, a few of them also complain of unusual or less common symptoms that still need medical supervision such as:

Woman experiencing loss of smell
  • Digestive problems like vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea
  • Loss of smell or taste that may lead to loss of appetite
  • Red rashes, lesions, superficial clots like that of chickenpox or hives
  • Blood clotting in the feet, lungs, heart, or brain can cause stroke, heart attack, or other serious heart problems
  • Happy hypoxia due to a lack of oxygen in the blood or blood clotting in the blood vessels of the lungs
  • Confusion or delirium


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