COVID-19 is the respiratory illness that’s caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Most people who get COVID-19 will experience a mild to moderate illness.

While most cases of COVID-19 aren’t serious, about 1 in 5 people develop a severe illness. Because of this, it’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19, get tested, and know when to seek medical attention.

In this article, we’ll help you understand what to do if you have symptoms of COVID-19, what the testing process is like, and how you can take care of yourself if you do become ill.

The symptoms of COVID-19 often come on gradually. While the initial symptoms can vary, the three most common COVID-19 symptoms are:

Additional symptoms may include:

Many of the symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses, such as the flu or the common cold. Below are some pointers you can use to help tell these illnesses apart.

COVID-19 vs. cold and flu symptoms

  • While COVID-19 symptoms often develop gradually, symptoms of the flu typically come on suddenly.
  • Many common symptoms of the flu, such as body aches and pains, chills, and headaches are less common symptoms of both COVID-19 and the common cold.
  • Fever is a common COVID-19 symptom. However, not everyone that has the flu will develop a fever. Fever is also rare with the common cold.
  • Sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose are common early symptoms of the common cold, but they’re less common with both COVID-19 and the flu.
  • Sneezing is a common symptom of the common cold, but it’s uncommon with COVID-19.
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If you think you have symptoms of COVID-19, it’s important to take the following steps:

  • Stay home. By staying home, you can help prevent spreading the virus to others in your community. Plan to only go out if you need to seek medical care.
  • Separate yourself from others. If you share your home with others, distance yourself from them as much as possible. Try to use a bedroom and bathroom that’s separate from the rest of your household.
  • Call your doctor. It’s important to let your doctor or healthcare provider know about your symptoms. They may ask you questions about when and how you may have been exposed. Try to answer these to the best of your ability.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions. Your doctor will give you instructions on how to care for yourself while you’re ill. They may also arrange for you to be tested for COVID-19 if you haven’t been tested already.
  • Monitor your symptoms. Keep track of your symptoms and if they begin to worsen, don’t hesitate to get medical attention. Plan to call ahead before you arrive at your doctor’s office, an urgent care facility, or an emergency room.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, you may want to get tested to confirm that you have the virus. Or, your doctor may arrange for you to get tested if they think you have symptoms.

There are two types of COVID-19 tests. Each one has a different purpose.

  • Diagnostic tests. These tests use a sample collected from your nose or throat to detect an active SARS-CoV-2 infection.
  • Antibody tests. Antibody tests work to detect specific antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in your blood. These tests are used to see if you’ve had a SARS-CoV-2 infection in the past.

If you’re currently experiencing symptoms, you’ll receive the diagnostic test. A sterile swab will be used to collect a sample from your nose or throat. This sample will then be sent to a lab to be tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2.

The turnaround time for test results can vary by location. In some places, you may get your results the same day. In other places, it may take up to a week. Be sure to ask about the turnaround time when you get tested.

There may be several COVID-19 testing locations near you. If you’d like to be tested but are unsure about where the closest testing location is, a good place to start is your state’s Department of Public Health website.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people with a mild case of COVID-19 will begin to feel better after about a week.

While there’s no specific treatment approved for COVID-19, there are ways to take care of yourself at home if you have a mild case.

At-home treatment for mild symptoms

  • Get plenty of rest to help your body fight the infection.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. This can include water, sports drinks, or low sodium broths.
  • Continue to focus on eating healthy meals. Ask a friend or family member to help with picking up your groceries while you’re ill.
  • Use over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or aspirin (Bayer) to help ease symptoms like fever, headache, and body aches and pains.
  • Have tissues on hand in case you need to cough or sneeze. Always dispose of soiled tissues promptly by putting them in a lined garbage can or flushing them down the toilet. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
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Keep in mind that these suggestions only apply to mild cases of COVID-19 that can be treated at home. If your symptoms begin to worsen, it’s important to seek prompt medical care.

If you’re sick with COVID-19, there are several steps that you can take to help prevent spreading the virus to others:

  • Stay home. Only go out to seek medical attention.
  • Separate yourself from others in your household. Use a separate bedroom and bathroom if possible.
  • Wear a cloth face covering that covers your nose and mouth if you need to be around others.
  • Wash your hands frequently. This is particularly important after coughing or sneezing, after using the bathroom, and before eating or handling food.
  • Cover your mouth if you need to cough or sneeze. Instead of using your hand, try to cover your mouth using a tissue or the crook of your elbow.
  • Don’t share personal items with others, such as eating utensils, drinking glasses, phones, remote controls, keyboards, towels, or bedding.
  • Try to clean high-touch surfaces in your home daily. Some examples of high-touch surfaces include doorknobs, countertops, light switches, and the handles of appliances.

In some people, COVID-19 symptoms can worsen, leading to severe disease. The onset of more severe illness typically happens 5 to 8 days after symptoms first develop.

Some people are at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19, including:

However, it’s important to remember that anyone can become seriously ill with COVID-19.

Some symptoms are an indicator of progression to a more serious illness. Seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms:

Most cases of COVID-19 are mild. While initial symptoms can vary by individual, some of the most common symptoms include fever, cough, and fatigue.

If you think you have COVID-19, plan to stay at home and distance yourself from others in your household. Call your doctor and let them know about your symptoms. Your doctor may be able to arrange for you to be tested for the virus.

A mild case of COVID-19 can be treated at home. Try to get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. You can also use over-the-counter medications to help ease your symptoms as you recover.

Some people can become seriously ill due to COVID-19. If you’re currently sick, monitor your symptoms carefully. Seek immediate medical care if you begin to experience symptoms like trouble breathing, chest pain, or mental confusion.