During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, some general information became available about the primary early symptoms of this type of infection. With an ever-growing number of confirmed cases of people with COVID-19 infections, a more exhaustive list of early symptoms is available, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. These are summarized here for easy reference and discussed in a bit more detail in a moment. These symptoms are listed in order from most common to least common:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue
  • Phlegm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Joint pain
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The importance of recognizing the earlier symptoms of COVID-19 is vital. While it is true that some people who contract this infection become terribly ill, the vast majority do not. There is growing evidence that those individuals who recognize symptoms of a COVID-19 infection early on have a better chance of mitigating the seriousness of the disease. 

A considerable percentage of people who contract COVID-19 may experience no symptoms at all or very mild ones. Those people that have significant but not necessarily severe infection are more than likely to experience more than one of these symptoms. 

Fever – 88% of Cases

Fever is now ranked as the most common symptom of COVID-19. This actually represents a shift from earlier data that suggested the most common symptom was a dry or unproductive cough. When a person experiences a fever, initial attempts should be made to take advantage of over the counter medications designed to assist in addressing this symptom. If a fever lasts more than a couple of days or if it reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit and stays there for more than two hours, you need to call your doctor, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Dry Cough – 66% of Cases

As noted, early on during the pandemic, a dry cough was thought to be the most commonplace symptom of a COVID-19. Although outpaced by fever, a dry cough is a frequent symptom of a coronavirus infection. A dry cough is also referred to as an unproductive cough. An unproductive cough is one that produces no phlegm. Moreover, the act of coughing itself doesn’t relieve the need to cough. A good many people with a COVID-19 infection report coughing fits that went on for an extended period of time and fairly could be called brutal episodes. 

Fatigue – 38% of Cases

During the earlier weeks of what ultimately became the COVID-19 pandemic, little focus was on the matter of fatigue. This symptom has come into much sharper focus more recently as a result of the considerable number of people who report enduring significant fatigue. Those individuals that do report fatigue as of the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection emphasize that it is profound. They consistently explain that they lacked the energy to do much of anything.

Phlegm – 33% of Cases

Phlegm is one of the truly troublesome symptoms of a COVID-19 infection because of its long-term potential consequences on the health of an infected individual. About one-third of all people diagnosed with COVID-19 have an issue with considerable phlegm buildup as a symptom. The phlegm associated with COVID-19 differs from that one might face with seasonal allergies or even the flu. Many may remember using rubber cement when doing art projects in school. Describing the phlegm associated with this type of coronavirus infection as having the consistency of rubber cement is a fair evaluation. 

Two issues associated with this type of phlegm in a COVID-19 infection are vital to note. First, as referenced a moment ago, the cough associated with COVID-19 typically is unproductive – it’s not expelling phlegm. Second, it is this phlegm that plays a significant role in rendering a COVID-19 infection severe and even potentially fatal.

Because this phlegm may not be effectively expelled, it can settle in the lungs. Simplifying a somewhat complicated process, when the phlegm settles in the lungs, it hardens rather like the liquid cement in the analogy mentioned a moment ago. This results in a seriously negative impact on lung function and is one of the reasons why somewhere between 1 to 5% of people with a COVID-19 infection appear likely to end up needing the assistance of a ventilator in an intensive care unit. 

Shortness of Breath – 19% of Cases

In part because of the issue with phlegm buildup in the lungs, shortness of breath is another symptom of COVID-19. Some people – about one in five – experience shortness of breath as an earlier sign of the infection. As the disease progresses, shortness of breath becomes an ever-increasing problem. 

Joint Pain – 15% of Cases

During the early stages of a COVID-19 infection, some individuals experience what they describe as “aches and pains” similar to what occurs when certain individuals have the flu. This is one of the symptoms that has contributed to some level of confusion in making a preliminary determination as to whether a person has influenza or should obtain testing for a COVID-19 infection.  

Sore Throat – 14% of Cases

Sore throat is also a potential symptom of a COVID-19 infection. This sign is akin to what people do experience with the cold or flu.

Headache – 14% of Cases

Headache is another possible symptom of a COVID-19 infection. As is the case with a sore throat, a headache oftentimes is indicative of other maladies, including seasonal allergies, flu, cold, and a considerable range of other issues. 

Chills – 11% of Cases

In some instances when an individual experiences a fever associated with a COVID-19 infection, that person also has chills. At the present time, there is some thought among medical experts that the 11% figure is probably low and the rate of people experiencing chill is higher because of the significant number of individuals who have a fever associated with a COVID-19 infection. If a person experiences chills, checking to see if a fever exists is vital. 

Runny Nose – 5% of Cases

People with a COVID-19 infection reporting a runny nose are small in number. There is a good possibility that while they may be diagnosed with COVID-19, they may be dealing with another issue as well, including seasonal allergies. 

Vomiting – 5% of Cases

Vomiting is reported in a small number of cases of people with diagnosed COVID-19 infections. In certain instances, individuals who experience some of these other symptoms may become nauseous as well and vomit. The emotional stress of being diagnosed with COVID-19 might be a factor in some people vomiting. 

Diarrhea – 4% of Cases

Diarrhea appears to be something of an outlier when it comes to the symptoms of COVID-19. This symptom standing alone almost certainly going to be an indicator of some other issue not of COVID-19.

If you find yourself beginning to experience one or some of these symptoms, do not go to the emergency room. Contact your primary care physician or reach out to a COVI-19 medical resource now available in most counties if you do not have a healthcare provider. As mentioned, the vast majority of COVID-19 infections are managed at home and without the need for hospitalization. 

If your symptoms become more profound, particularly in regard to being able to breathe, do seek emergency medical attention. If you ever reach this point, you previously should have been in touch with a doctor who can assist in facilitating your admission to an appropriate emergency department.