By mid-2020, Quartz estimated that the United States alone had already spent about $5.1 billion on COVID-19 medical research. Across the wealth of information that we now have access to, it’s resoundingly clear that the coronavirus experience – from symptoms to recovery – varies from person to person. The variety of symptoms and experiences makes separating the facts and myths more vital than ever. Thankfully, the research efforts we’ve seen across the globe make that possible as we look toward a future of healing.
Symptoms, Common and Uncommon
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 symptoms typically appear between 2 to 14 days after exposure. Most commonly, these symptoms include:
- Feverish temperatures
- Shortness of breath or labored breathing
- Muscle aches
- Loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Nausea or vomiting
- Headaches (often known as the now-ubiquitous “COVID headache”)
Of course, coronavirus symptoms are not exclusive to COVID-19 and often resemble allergies or the flu. More than that, numerous valid symptoms are a little less common but are still connected to the virus. In February of 2021, pulmonary and critical care physician Dr. Joseph Khabbaza told the Cleveland Clinic, “There’s nothing that’s truly abnormal when it comes to COVID – literally almost anything goes, and we don’t exactly know why.” However, the clinic and Dr. Khabbaza go on to note that some other identifiable but uncommon symptoms include:
- Brain fog, hallucinations or delirium
- Elevated heart rate
- Skin irritation (such as the rashes dubbed COVID toes or hands)
- Vocal cord neuropathy (hoarseness or speaking issues)
Coronavirus may also occur with no symptoms at all. It’s these common cases that make testing and isolation crucial.
Testing and Taking Action
Because of the litany of both common and less common symptoms, knowing when to act can be a delicate situation. But the first rule of thumb? Persistent symptoms or recent potential exposure to the virus always warrants testing. Even without symptoms present, regular COVID testing is a community-facing action that protects those at risk of infection and their workplaces, families and social circles. And it doesn’t have to be a complex process. BRIO’s all-in-one solution and fully HIPAA-compliant platform can help streamline the testing process, from ordering tests to viewing and managing results.
So testing is a given, but what about medical action? Dr. Khabbaza and the Cleveland Clinic advise those experiencing symptoms that significantly affect their day-to-day routines should consult their healthcare provider (by phone at first, as a social distancing precaution). The CDC and the University of California Davis recommend seeking immediate emergency medical attention as soon as possible if you’re experiencing severe breathing trouble, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, a recent sense of confusion, the inability to stay awake, or the discoloration of skin, lips or nails (such as a gray or blue hue, depending on skin tone).
Illness and Isolation
Because COVID-19 is an airborne virus that also transmits through surfaces, those diagnosed as positive should stay home and isolate as much as possible. Eliminate contact with family, friends, housemates, and local communities or public spaces. During isolation, keep in touch with your primary care provider. Inform your entire work, family and social network of possible exposure, and monitor for any of the symptoms above.
If contact is unavoidable, practice social distancing of at least 6 feet and wear masks that completely cover your nose and mouth. Throughout the process, wash your hands frequently, avoid sharing household items, and regularly clean high-touch surfaces with a household disinfectant.
Generally speaking, those with coronavirus will experience something that feels similar to a bad cold or flu, including respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms as well as a loss of taste or smell. Accessible and effective treatments for mild cases of coronavirus include plenty of rest and hydration and over-the-counter remedies like acetaminophen or fever reducers. Opt for liquid foods like soup, and avoid caffeine or alcohol. Your doctor may recommend an at-home breathing support system, such as a ventilator for more severe cases.
The Road to Recovery
Again, while individual experiences differ, most people with mild COVID cases recover in about one to two weeks, though severe cases may last up to six weeks or longer. It’s not out of the ordinary to continue to feel some symptoms for several weeks. For many, the road to feeling 100% is a long one. Speaking to Yale Medicine, pulmonologist Dr. Lauren Ferrante, MD, MHDS, suggests that those experiencing long recovery times practice getting up and walking around or doing low-impact leg exercises to avoid losing muscle function.
The CDC notes that most cases of COVID-19 are mild (about 80% of them or more according to Yale Medicine), and that the majority of patients will recover safely at home without professional medical care. The center also advises that patients can safely be around others as long as:
- Ten days have passed since the symptoms first appeared
- 24 hours have passed with no fever (without the use of fever-reducing medication)
- All other COVID symptoms are improving
However, your healthcare provider may recommend testing to determine when you’ve fully recovered, depending on your individual coronavirus experience and symptoms. Those who experience severe cases of COVID-19 may need to isolate for closer to 20 days, and testing post-recovery is strongly recommended for those who are immunocompromised.
While the most common coronavirus experience is, fortunately, a full recovery within a few weeks, some people experience long-term health effects that can persist for months (or longer) after their infection. These issues include fatigue, coughs, aches, accelerated heart rate, headaches, brain fog and the loss of taste and smell. Only the combination of time and continued research will reveal the full extent of long-term issues, but the virus is known to cause blood vessel problems. More research is needed, but the Mayo Clinic reminds us it may damage organs including the heart, lungs and brain.
In more uplifting news, Johns Hopkins University reports that only about 1% of infected people worldwide die of coronavirus, which puts much of the onus on healing. Recovering from COVID-19 is uniquely personal. It often takes a village of family, friends, workplace and community support to overcome the illness itself as well as the unprecedented changes to our lifestyles that result. Stay informed, practice tried-and-true safety measures, and never be afraid to enlist a little help. Reach out to BRIO today for information in workplace testing to help keep your teams safe.
Dan Ketchum has been an LA-based freelance writer for over a decade, with past work published by USA Today, The Seattle Times and The San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate. In the healthcare realm, he’s grateful to have collaborated with organizations such as LIVESTRONG, AZ Central Healthy Living, Eucerin, Jillian Michaels, Healthfully and Cetaphil, among others.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Covid-19: Symptoms
Cleveland Clinic - 10 Unusual Symptoms of Covid-19
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Covid-19: What to Do if You Are Sick
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - When Can You Be Around Others?
Johns Hopkins Medicine - Coronavirus Diagnosis: What Should I Expect?
UC Davis Health - What to Do if You Test Positive for Covid-19
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Duration of Isolation and Precautions for Adults
Yale Medicine - What Does Recovery from Covid-19 Look Like?
Mayo Clinic - Covid-19 (Coronavirus): Long-term Effects