COVID-19 symptoms

Updated October 18, 2023

How long after being exposed to COVID-19 could I develop symptoms?

Symptoms can appear 2 to 14 days after you are exposed to the virus.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

People with COVID-19 report a wide range of symptoms. They include:

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

This list is not all possible symptoms. Symptoms may change with new COVID variants.

What is “shortness of breath,” and how do I know if it’s serious/severe?

Shortness of breath is a symptom of COVID. You’ll know you are “short of breath” if you are thinking about breathing, even if you’re resting. You may also feel like you:

  • Can't fill your lungs with air
  • Need to pant
  • Can't hold your breath
  • Need to cough every time you inhale
  • Are suffocating
  • Have tightness or pain in your chest with breathing

Signs that your shortness of breath has become severe, and you need to go to the emergency department or call 911 are:

  • You can't breathe while sitting or lying down
  • Pain or pressure in your chest that does not go away
  • Mental confusion
  • Bluish lips or face

If you are concerned about your breathing, don’t hesitate to call your doctor or health provider, or go to a hospital emergency department.

Risk Factors for Severe COVID

Updated October 18, 2023

Who is at risk for severe illness or hospitalization from COVID?

People over age 50 (risk increases with older age), and people with certain health conditions are at higher risk for severe disease from COVID, including hospitalization and death. Some people have more than one risk factor; the risk for severe COVID increases with each risk factor. The CDC’s webpage offers a complete and detailed list of these health conditions and their connection with increased risk for severe illness from COVID.

Learn More

These health conditions include (in alphabetical order, not by risk):

  • Received a blood stem cell transplant
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic lung diseases (including asthma)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Dementia and other neurological conditions
  • Diabetes (type 1 and 2)
  • Some types of disabilities
  • Heart conditions
  • HIV
  • Immunocompromised or weakened immune system
  • Some mental health conditions
  • Received an organ transplant
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
  • Smoking (now or in the past)
  • Had a stroke
  • Substance use disorders
  • Tuberculosis

Treatment Options for COVID-19 Illness

Updated October 18, 2023

What medications are there for COVID?

There are currently three prescription antiviral medications for COVID-19:

  • Paxlovid: Taken at home, by mouth, for patients at high risk for severe illness. Paxlovid is FDA approved and the preferred treatment for COVID at this time.
  • Lagevrio: Taken at home, by mouth, for patients at high risk for severe illness.
  • Remdesivir: Intravenous (IV). It is used for prevention and treatment of COVID for patients in the hospital, and for prevention on an outpatient basis. It is given at a hospital or health facility for 3 days in a row for prevention and 5 days for treatment.

Who can get prescription COVID medication?

If you have COVID-19 and are at risk for severe illness, these antiviral medications can reduce your chances of being hospitalized or dying from the disease. People who are at risk for severe illness include:

  • Adults age 50 and older; risk increases with older age
  • People who are unvaccinated
  • People with certain medical conditions, like lung disease, heart disease, or a weakened immune system

When should I get COVID medication?

If you are at risk of severe illness, talk to your provider as soon as you have symptoms/a positive COVID test, even if your symptoms are mild. It’s important to start treatment early, and no later than 5 to 7 days after you first start to feel sick. Paxlovid is also linked to a lower risk of long COVID.

Can I get COVID medication over the counter/without a prescription?

Antiviral medications to treat COVID-19 must be prescribed by a healthcare provider or pharmacist and should be started no longer than 5 to 7 days after symptoms appear.

Can I get monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID?

Monoclonal antibody treatment is not effective against the current variants. Because it is not effective today, it is no longer offered at Henry Ford Health.

Should I take an antibiotic for COVID?

No, antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. COVID is a virus, and an antibiotic is not an effective treatment for a virus.

I’m not at risk of severe illness. How should I treat my COVID symptoms?

Treat COVID at home much like a bad cold or flu:

  • Stay home and rest
  • Drink fluids like water, juice, herbal tea, and low-sodium broth
  • Use a hot shower or vaporizer to help open airways and relieve congestion and a sore throat
  • Gargle with warm salt water if you have a sore throat – 1 teaspoon of salt per 8 ounces of warm water

You can also take over-the-counter medications to help you feel better. These include:

  • Pain relievers/fever reducers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil)
  • Decongestant for a stuffy nose
  • Expectorant for a wet cough (it will help loosen mucus)
  • Cough suppressant for a dry cough
  • Sore throat spray or lozenges for a sore throat
  • Anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medication like Pepto Bismol

Talk to your doctor if you have questions about what over-the-counter medications you can/should take.

When should I go to the hospital?

You should go to the hospital or call 911 if you have:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue colored skin, lips or nail beds, depending on skin tone

This list is not all possible symptoms. Please contact your doctor or provider if you have symptoms that are severe or causing concern for you.

If you or someone else is having any of these signs, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department. If you call 911, notify the operator that you are seeking care for someone with COVID.

How can I stay healthy and avoid getting COVID?

It’s not possible for everyone to avoid getting sick with COVID, the flu, or other illnesses that are going around, but these tips will help:

  • Get vaccinated with the updated 2023-2024 COVID vaccine and a flu shot. Adults age 60 and older can get an RSV vaccine
  • Clean your hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer
  • Get plenty of rest, eat healthy foods, and be active every day
  • Ventilate indoor spaces by opening windows, using fans or other air filtration devices, especially when gathering with other people
  • Spend time outdoors with others when possible
  • Social distance and consider wearing a mask around others in indoor spaces
  • Avoid contact with people who have suspected or confirmed COVID, flu, or who are not feeling well

After I have COVID, do I need the COVID vaccine?

Yes, you should still get vaccinated if you have not received the updated 2023-2024 COVID vaccine. The vaccine will lower your risk for getting COVID again, and if you do get COVID again, your symptoms will be milder. You can get the vaccine as soon as you are no longer in isolation and feeling better.


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