Coronavirus Symptoms (COVID-19) Explained: 8 Things To Consider

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is a worldwide pandemic that has impacted the way people live and work for the past several years.

Though we may have overcome the worst of the pandemic as of 2023, there are still some things to keep in mind in terms of safeguarding yourself and your loved ones; after all, it is still possible to get sick, particularly if you have not been vaccinated.

Some people are more at risk than others, including people with compromised immune systems, the elderly, pregnant people, and children. In this article, you'll find comprehensive information about COVID-19, as well as ways to keep yourself and your family safe now and into the future.

Navigating the challenges of the coronavirus can be hard

1. Timeline for developing COVID-19 symptoms: Consider vulnerable populations

Once you contract COVID-19, the timeline for symptom manifestation is typically between two and fourteen days. COVID-19 spreads when you're in close contact with a person who has it, meaning someone who is within six feet of you, which means it’s been a top priority for many to avoid crowds and areas with poor ventilation. 

Specifically, COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets, meaning it's spread when a person sneezes or coughs. That means that it can be quite easy to get exposed to the virus, even if you’re doing your best to practice good hygiene.

It can be important to remember that those who are elderly or have health conditions that inhibit their immune system’s ability to fight back (i.e. autoimmune disorders, asthma, COPD, etc.) may have a higher likelihood of getting ill. Taking special care to avoid passing the virus to these individuals can be vital, as they may also have a higher chance of developing serious complications due to their illness. If you’ve potentially been exposed to the coronavirus, it’s likely best to avoid spending time around those who are most at risk for around a week or two to ensure you don’t develop symptoms. 

2. The difference between the common cold and COVID-19

Though symptoms of the common cold and other ailments may mimic those of COVID-19, there are some things that can help you distinguish between a mild illness and the coronavirus. Shortness of breath, for instance, or more severe symptoms like a fever or severe body aches and chills likely point to COVID-19 rather than a typical, relatively harmless virus.

Mild colds generally start to dissipate within a week in otherwise healthy people, but specific populations like older individuals may experience longer recovery times. Symptoms of the common cold can include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sniffling
  • Watery eyes
  • Congestion
  • Loss of smell
  • Irritated throat

If you find you have a runny nose and are sneezing, it's more likely that you have a cold (and not COVID-19).

3. The difference between the flu and COVID-19

As with colds, the symptomatic difference between the flu and the coronavirus tends to be shortness of breath. If you're experiencing this symptom, it’s likely best to stay in your home and seek medical advice to decide how to best proceed. It may also be beneficial to keep an eye on your temperature. If you have a high fever, you may be experiencing the flu or COVID-19, so it’s typically best to talk to your doctor sooner rather than later.

4. The difference between allergies and COVID-19

Allergy symptoms frequently include red, watery, or itchy eyes; sneezing; a rash; and a runny nose or congestion. You can distinguish the coronavirus from allergies because, unlike allergies, COVID-19 generally includes symptoms such as a fever. Plus, allergies mainly affect the nose or eyes most of the time. With the coronavirus, your symptoms will likely be worse than the allergy symptoms you might typically face.

Source: CDC graphic via

5. COVID-19 symptoms

After someone is exposed to COVID-19, it may take anywhere from two to fourteen days for the symptoms to begin. They could include:

  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing in severe cases

If you notice you're developing symptoms and have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, it's probably time to contact a medical professional. Furthermore, you should generally be careful if you've traveled to a place where higher rates of coronavirus have been documented. Let your doctor know about any trips you’ve recently taken when you report your symptoms.

6. How COVID-19 affects children

Children may be more likely to need help adjusting their behavior for a world impacted by the pandemic. Cover your cough and instruct your kids to do the same. You may want to take steps to ensure that your child knows how to safeguard themselves from the virus, including things like wearing a mask when appropriate, practicing social distancing, and focusing on good hand hygiene.

In general, it's best to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (roughly the amount of time it takes to sing the alphabet). To help young children wash their hands for the appropriate amount of time, you can instruct them to sing a song like “Happy Birthday” in their head or out loud. If soap is not available, you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer and wash your hands as soon as possible. Do not touch potentially contaminated surfaces and instruct your children to avoid them as well.

Note that children might be more susceptible to fear and anxiety surrounding sickness, but it can be possible to keep your kids safe without instilling panic. It’s worth noting that, based on current evidence, children do not seem to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults. Still, it can be beneficial to equip children with the knowledge they may need to keep themselves healthy both now and well into adulthood.

7. COVID-19 symptoms may linger for some time

A phenomenon that experts are still trying to understand is the tendency of some COVID-19 symptoms to linger for days, months, and even years after a person has recovered from the virus. Not everyone who gets sick with the coronavirus experiences what’s known as “long COVID,” or the long-term presence of coronavirus symptoms, but those with more severe cases may be more at risk.

Common long-term COVID symptoms include things like fatigue, difficulty breathing, difficulty concentrating or thinking (“brain fog”), and prolonged loss of taste or smell, among other examples. If you’ve been sick with COVID or suspect you have been despite a negative or lack of positive test result and notice symptoms like these, it may be best to reach out to your doctor. 

Source: CDC graphic via
Navigating the challenges of the coronavirus can be hard

8. Final tips

Dr. James Robb is a consulting pathologist at the National Cancer Institute, and he has extensive experience as a molecular virologist containing the coronavirus in the 1970s. Here are his tips on keeping you and your family safe:

  • No handshaking. You can use a fist bump or an elbow tap to say "hello."
  • Use your knuckle(s) to touch the light switches in your home or elevator buttons.
  • At the gas station, lift the handle for the gasoline dispenser with a paper towel or a disposable latex glove.
  • Open any doors with a closed fist or using your hip.
  • Don't touch a door handle unless there is no other way to open the door.
  • Stock up on and use disinfectant wipes. Use them on grocery carts.
  • Wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitizer with a 60% alcohol base.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and afterward throw the tissue away.

For more information regarding the coronavirus, the CDC has released an FAQ page to answer common questions and address frequent concerns.

Finding professional support for COVID-19 concerns

If you're concerned about your health in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic or are experiencing lingering changes to your body, lifestyle, or personal wellness, you almost certainly aren’t alone. You can always discuss these experiences in online therapy with a licensed mental health professional. Online therapy allows you to receive care from the comfort and safety of your own home, which can help you avoid unnecessary trips to and from an in-person office. 

Research supports online therapy’s ability to offer professional mental healthcare in a way that’s attainable for many people from a variety of backgrounds. One recent review of 17 studies analyzing the perks of online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) found it was generally more cost-effective for clients than traditional, in-person treatment. That means that finding someone to talk to may be easier than ever.


While the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed our way of life in many regards, it can also serve as a reminder of the importance of safeguarding your health and ensuring you help your loved ones do the same. By practicing good hygiene, knowing when it’s time to see a doctor, and minimizing your exposure to risky environments, you can likely keep yourself safe and healthy.
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