Most People Who Get COVID Notice This First
In the two years since COVID-19 was declared an official pandemic, symptoms of the virus have become fairly well known—but doctors and scientists continue to be surprised by new and unexpected factors related to the virus. "Really, nothing is off the table when it comes to COVID. I always get texts from people asking if something they're experiencing is normal. Well, there's nothing that's truly abnormal when it comes to COVID — literally almost anything goes and we don't exactly know why," says pulmonary and critical care physician Joseph Khabbaza, MD. Here are the most common symptoms of COVID-19, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Loss of Smell and Taste
A loss of taste and smell is one of the earliest signs of COVID-19, doctors say. Less so with Omicron but it still happens. "There's a risk of temporary and, less commonly, permanent loss of smell with any viral infection," says Raj Sindwani, MD. "Things get swollen and the odors just are not getting to the smell receptors that live high in the nose. It happens with the common cold and it frequently happens early in COVID-19 cases as well."
Elevated Heart Rate
Unusually high blood pressure and heart rate could be symptoms of COVID-19, doctors say. "We're seeing this more and more," says Dr. Khabbaza. "When it occurs, our immune system is attacking autonomic nerves — so nerves that regulate things in the body like heart rate and temperature — that thermostat can be thrown off. When this occurs, people's heart rates are not being regulated. Once you lose that balance, you can have a super-high heart rate or elevated temperature for no reason. We've seen that in a lot of people and it seems to be an immune-mediated response, meaning the antibodies that you make somehow attack these kinds of nerves. That's most likely playing a role in a lot of the unusual symptoms that we're seeing."
An upset stomach is a common sign of both COVID-19 and the BA.2 variant. "If you've had an upset tummy lately, you're not alone," says Professor Timothy Spector. "Thanks to millions of daily health reports from our dedicated ZOE COVID Study app contributors, we've shown from the earliest days of the pandemic that gastrointestinal (GI) problems — such as diarrhea, stomach pains, feeling sick and losing your appetite or skipping meals — can all be symptoms of COVID-19."
Sudden changes to skin are an early and common symptom of the virus: "Many viral infections can affect the skin, so it's not surprising that we are seeing these rashes in COVID-19," says Dr. Veronique Bataille, consultant dermatologist at St Thomas' Hospital and King's College London. "However, it is important that people know that in some cases, a rash may be the first or only symptom of the disease. So if you notice a new rash, you should take it seriously by self-isolating and getting tested as soon as possible."
"Brain fog is kind of a big one," says Dr. Khabbaza. "It's a kind of mental cloudiness — like you're in a daze. You hear a lot about it with mild outpatients, but we also see it more severely in the ICU. Hallucinations and confusion are commonly experienced during all sorts of severe illnesses. When you have a kind stressor like COVID-19 in the body, you're more likely to be confused, especially if you are elderly. This symptom is very common with older people as the body is trying to fight off an infection."
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.