What to do if you have symptoms

This article was last reviewed on October 12, 2021.

COVID-19 is an illness that can affect the lungs, skin, nervous system, blood as well as other organs. Here you’ll find all of the latest information on the symptoms and what you should do if you think you are sick.

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.

COVID-19 patients may have:

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

If you have any of these emergency symptoms, seek care immediately (call 911 or go to the nearest emergency care facility):

  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain or pressure in the chest that doesn’t go away
  • New confusion
  • Have trouble waking up or staying awake
  • Skin, lips or nail beds are pale, grey or blue

If you are unvaccinated:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should not leave your home (except to get medical care as advised by a medical professional or in a medical emergency) if you have any of these symptoms or think you might have COVID-19. If you live with other people who do not have symptoms, you should practice self-isolation: separate yourself in a “sick room” if possible, and minimize contact with members of your household as much as you can. Wear a facemask around others, cover your coughs and sneezes, and clean your hands often. Call ahead before visiting your doctor, or schedule a visit by phone or telemedicine.

If you are fully vaccinated1:

  • you should wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission
  • you should consider wearing a mask regardless of the level of transmission if you or a member of your household is unvaccinated, have a weakened immune system or are at high risk because of age or an underlying medical condition
  • you are still required to wear a mask where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance

If you are fully vaccinated and have been around someone who has COVID-191:

  • you should get tested 3-5 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms
  • you should wear a mask in indoor public places for 14 days following exposure or until your test result is negative
  • you should isolate for 10 days if your result is positive

How to self-isolate

If you are showing symptoms of COVID-19 and are self-isolating, here’s some helpful information on what to do and how to cope when you’re stuck inside.

Will I get seriously ill?

Most people with COVID-19 infection will get a mild form of the illness. A small number of people may develop difficulty breathing and need to go to the hospital.

The people most at risk for developing more serious symptoms are those aged 65 or older, people living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, smokers, and those with underlying medical conditions such as cancer, kidney, lung, liver, or heart disease, Down syndrome, weakened immune system, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, thalassemia, diabetes, neurological condition, stroke, HIV, organ/stem cell transplant, smoking or substance use disorder2.

How is COVID-19 treated?

Most people infected with COVID-19 either have no symptoms at all or have mild ones that require no treatment.

There are some medications that have received emergency use authorization for treatment of COVID-19 infection.

In severe cases of COVID-19, treatment includes admission to the hospital and care focused on supporting the person through the course of the virus while their immune system works to overcome it.

Post COVID-19 symptoms

If you think you or a family member may have a post-COVID condition (new or persistent conditions occurring 4 or more weeks after initial infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19), taking a few steps to prepare for your meeting with a healthcare provider can make all the difference in getting the proper medical evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. Use this checklist before your next healthcare visit.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.