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November 24, 2021

What “mild COVID-19 symptoms” actually means

Illness COVID-19

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The severity of a COVID-19 infection can vary widely from person to person, ranging from those who show no symptoms to others who experience serious illness that leads to hospitalization or death. The majority of people that contract the virus experience “mild symptoms” and recover in a few weeks. But what does this mean, exactly, especially when recovery can take so much time?

Initial symptoms

Most cases of COVID-19 begin with the same symptoms: fever, cough, and fatigue. While early symptoms may not feel severe enough to stay at home in normal circumstances, it’s important to avoid being around others until you get tested to avoid potentially spreading the virus. During the flu and cold season, this balancing act becomes even more difficult: so many of the symptoms for COVID-19 are the same as more minor illnesses, meaning a test is the only way to rule out COVID-19.

Other signs of illness

In addition to the symptoms described above, a mild COVID-19 case can cause a variety of other symptoms. Many people have reported loss of smell or taste, fevers, body aches, headaches, sore throat, runny nose, and diarrhea. The course of the virus can vary greatly from person to person — and it can quickly become more severe in some cases. If your symptoms start to worsen, seek medical treatment immediately.

Mild, moderate, or severe?

The National Institutes of Health has developed severity-of-illness categories for COVID-19, and they can be helpful for understanding your own symptoms should you experience them.

• Mild illness: This describes anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, but not having shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

• Moderate illness: People experiencing symptoms of lower respiratory disease — such as shortness of breath — but have an oxygen saturation above 94% are considered moderate cases.

• Severe illness: When a person’s oxygen levels drop below 94% while they have COVID-19, the illness is considered severe.

These clear standards are helpful for treatment, but they also demonstrate that a case of COVID-19 can be quite serious and debilitating, while still being considered “mild.”

Treatment of mild COVID-19

If you begin experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you should immediately isolate yourself from others and get tested for the virus. If your case is considered mild, the main thing you need to do is take care of yourself at home and wait for it to pass. Mild cases can be treated with fever reducers (such as aspirin), rest, hydration, and vaporizers if you have a cough. Once 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms, you can safety be around others if your symptoms are improving and you’ve had no fever for 24 hours without the use of fever reducers.

Since even "mild" symptoms can mean a significant period of illness and the possibility of spreading the disease to others, continue to protect yourself by practicing social distancing and wearing a mask. And of course, the most important and effective thing you can do to prevent the contraction and transmission of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. Learn more about the vaccines and to find a vaccination location near you.

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