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COVID-19 symptoms: Mild to severe and how they progress

April 02, 2020

Wellness During COVID-19 Primary Care
Clipboard with COVID-19 symptoms listed

You’ve heard that if you have mild respiratory or flu-like symptoms and think it might be COVID-19 (the new coronavirus), you can recover at home with rest and fluids.

If you’re having a little trouble breathing? Call your doctor for guidance.

And if your symptoms are severe, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately.

Mild. A little trouble. Severe. What do these words really mean? And how do you know if your symptoms are progressing to a point that requires a call to the doctor or a trip to the ER?

Mild symptoms of COVID-19

Because this particular coronavirus is so new – it first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China – we’re still learning about it and the symptoms it causes. However, when mild symptoms occur, they can mimic the common cold and include:

  • Low-grade fever (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit for adults)
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Mild, dry cough
  • Mild body aches

There have also been reports of people testing positive for the virus without having any symptoms.

A joint World Health Organization-China mission of 25 infectious disease experts went to China in February. According to their report, 80 percent of known COVID-19 cases cause mild to moderate symptoms that don’t require special treatment. So, if you have these mild symptoms, you can get better at home without a trip to your doctor’s office. Your immune system will do its job and fight the virus. 

Moderate symptoms of COVID-19

When COVID-19 symptoms progress from mild to moderate, you’ll know because one or more of the following may occur:

  • Your fever will be above 100.4 F
  • You’ll develop a more persistent cough
  • You’ll experience temporary shortness of breath when you exert yourself – going up the stairs for instance
  • You’ll feel like you need to stay in bed

If this occurs, call your doctor or Riverside Nurse promptly. The virus could be progressing into pneumonia. Explain how you feel in as much detail as you can, and they will help you decide if you should seek medical care.

Severe symptoms of COVID-19

Moderate symptoms can progress into severe symptoms suddenly, especially in people who are older or who have chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer or chronic respiratory problems. There have even been reports of people with mild to moderate symptoms feeling better and then suddenly getting worse and requiring hospitalization.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says if you begin to show severe symptoms of COVID-19 – or what they call emergency warning signs – you should go to the emergency room or call 911 immediately.

Emergency warning signs of the coronavirus include:

  • Constant trouble breathing
  • Persistent chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion
  • Trouble staying awake
  • Blue lips or face

Still not sure?

If you’re feeling ill and still not sure if you should seek medical care, Rebekah Sensenig, D.O., with Riverside Health System says to trust your instincts.

“It’s true that some of the symptoms we feel when we’re sick are subjective,” Dr. Sensenig says. “Perhaps what you would call a bad sore throat, someone else would say is mild. But you know your body better than anyone else.”

And Dr. Sensenig says that if your symptoms are severe, you’ll know.

“There will be no doubt if you should call the doctor or call 911,” Dr. Sensenig says. “And if you aren’t sure, just call us. We’ll listen and quickly help you decide what to do.”

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