COVID-19 is essentially a respiratory infection and, as a result, is defined by symptoms specific to respiratory infections such as a sore throat, coughing, fever, a stuffy and at times even a runny nose, and phlegm that can be difficult to expectorate. Progression of the novel Coronavirus infection to the lungs produces related symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain or tightness, poor oxygenation and complications such as pneumonia, which are also in line with respiratory infections symptomatology. But it’s not a given that symptoms typical of a respiratory infection appear early on in the course of the disease, or at any point in its progression in the case of asymptomatic individuals.
Plenty of people diagnosed with the novel Coronavirus have experienced rather unusual symptoms both in the early and late phases of the disease. For example, alterations of taste or smell perception are reportedly one of the most common and earliest symptoms of the novel Coronavirus infection, while confusion, bluish lips, chest pain, vasculitis and blood clots and associated events are atypical symptoms reserved for the later stages of the infection that has progressed to more severe forms. In light of its systemic effects and its sometimes atypical symptomatology, the novel Coronavirus is something we would all like to detect whilst still in its incipient stages. But what are the early symptoms of COVID-19? Here are 7 of the earliest and sometimes only few symptoms of the novel Coronavirus infection to keep in mind that could help you detect the disease before it develops into something more serious:
(1) Loss of smell
Anosmia, or loss of smell in layman’s terms, is reported to be one of the earliest signs of the novel Coronavirus infection. Loss of smell is sometimes one of few symptoms or even only symptom of COVID-19. The degree of loss of smell may vary from person to person as people report mild to severe and even complete loss of their olfactory senses. It has been revealed that 2 out of 3 or 30% of confirmed Coronavirus cases experienced some degree of loss of smell, according to data collected from South Korea, China, Germany and Italy. See source. It would seem that the loss of smell is temporary, lasting on average from a few days to around 3 weeks. However, the exact length of time until the full recovery of one’s olfactory senses may vary beyond current reports.
What causes loss of smell in COVID-19? On the one hand, the inflammation at the level of the nasal passages, one of the main entryways for the novel Coronavirus. The SARS-CoV-2 or 2019-nCov virus attaches itself to cells in the nose containing ACE2 receptors and produces infection locally. As the immune system gets involved, inflammation ensues resulting in loss of smell. Another potential reason for the loss of smell occurring with COVID-19 has to do the neurological effects of the virus. The novel Coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 or 2019-nCov, goes as far as to infect nerve cells of the cerebral cortex which processes information from the senses (taste, smell, hearing, balance etc. – see source). This is because brain cells also have the ACE2 receptor on their surface, making them susceptible for infection with the novel Coronavirus. By disrupting nerve cell activity, the novel Coronavirus affects how information from the senses is processed, resulting in an altered sense smell, for example.
Of course, loss of smell is also one of the defining symptoms of seasonal allergies, and the current pandemic does overlap with the leading allergy season, which is spring. Loss of smell is also a well-documented symptom of respiratory infections other than COVID-19, including the common cold and flu. If you’re experiencing red, itchy, watery eyes and itchy ears, nasal congestion or a runny nose with lots of watery, clear or white mucus and lots of sneezing, especially after being outside, you could consider seasonal allergies. Find out more about the difference between allergies, the common cold and the flu.
(2) Loss of taste
In the beginning, symptoms of the novel Coronavirus infection may differ from person to person. But one of the most commonly reported early symptoms of COVID-19 is loss of taste or alterations in taste perception such as a metallic taste. While apparently unusual for a respiratory infection, it can be explained. As mentioned above, SARS-CoV-2 or 2019-nCov has been found to infect the brain (nerve cells have the ACE2 receptor on their surface to which the virus attaches to produce infection). By infecting nerve cells of the cerebral cortex, the novel Coronavirus affects how information from the senses is processed, resulting in loss of smell and also taste and alterations in olfactive and gustatory perception.
However, loss of taste is also a common symptom of seasonal allergies, just like loss of smell. So depending on what other symptoms you may or may not be experiencing, it’s possible for the alterations in gustatory perception to be owed to seasonal allergies, not necessarily the novel Coronavirus. Other common symptoms of seasonal allergies include red, itchy, watery eyes and itchy ears, runny nose with an abundance of clear or white mucus, nose stuffiness, sleepiness or insomnia and, of course, loss of smell.
(3) Headaches and migraines
Headaches and migraines are one of the early symptoms of the novel Coronavirus infection, as reported by affected individuals. A lot of people later diagnosed with COVID-19 report to have experienced headaches and migraines in the beginning of the disease. However, it’s true that you can get headaches from anything really. Being out on a windy day can result in a really bad headache that can keep you up at night. Stress, tired eyes, poor lighting, lack of sleep, tiredness, allergies and many other causes can lead to a headache or migraine. Headaches may also occur with spring fever which is a set of mental and sometimes physical changes that arise as a response to warmer weather. And right now it’s spring.
(4) Body aches
It doesn’t get more general than this, but yes, body aches are apparently one of the earliest signs of a Coronavirus infection. Or it could be the flu. If you have been experiencing muscle aches, achy joints, bone pain and any kind of a dull, persistent pain, you could consider the novel Coronavirus as a potential cause. Or again, the flu. Keep a track of your activities and any other symptom you may be experiencing and, should your condition worsen, seek medical help. In the meantime, eat nutritious food, take your multivitamins, keep hydrated and rest. Also find out more about influenza or the flu and its causes, types, symptoms and treatment.
(5) Malaise and tiredness
In the beginning, the symptoms of the novel Coronavirus infection may include malaise and tiredness. Malaise is a general feeling of unwell, feeling unlike your normal self. It’s a vague feeling, more of a general sense of physical and mental unwell such as weakness, apathy, unease or similar states. It usually goes hand in hand with tiredness or fatigue, that is, weariness, lack of energy, vigor or vitality, even drowsiness and lack of productivity. Malaise and fatigue are known to occur with seasonal allergies, the flu, even the common cold, spring fever, depression and many other conditions. While they are reported to be early symptoms of Coronavirus, malaise and fatigue do not provide a clear-cut diagnosis of COVID-19. Watch for other symptoms and continue to monitor your health and practice good hygiene.
(6) Sore throat
Is your sore throat caused by seasonal allergies, the flu, the common cold, strep throat or the novel Coronavirus? How can you tell? While the long list of COVID-19 symptoms does include a sore throat, and it is one of the earliest symptoms of the disease, it’s not unique to it. There are many things that can cause a sore throat, from inhaling irritants to experiencing acid reflux to pollen allergies or any respiratory tract infection. Indeed, a sore throat is a clinically-relevant and often also one of the early symptoms of Coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean that if you have a sore throat right now it’s definitely COVID-19. Monitor you health and symptoms and be on the lookout for other signs such as a fever, chills and shaking, coughing, malaise, tiredness, body aches, loss of smell and taste, digestive problems and skin rashes.
It’s well-known by now that the novel Coronavirus causes neurological symptoms. But how is dizziness a symptom of Coronavirus? Well, for one, the SARS-CoV-2 or 2019-nCov virus infects nerve cells and can affect areas of the brain that are responsible for processing sensory information related to spatial orientation, direction and balance, hence symptoms such as dizziness. Mild dizziness can occur in mild forms of the disease and be one of the only few symptoms present. Coronavirus-related headaches can also cause dizzy spells.
However, dizziness is not just an early symptom of Coronavirus, but also a sign of severe disease. For example, a too high a fever or fever that has been going on for too many days can cause dizziness and even loss of consciousness and requires immediate medical help. Frequent bouts of dizziness or more severe dizzy spells are also symptoms of advanced disease and predict a higher risk for complications. If you experience severe dizziness, see a doctor as soon as possible.
This post was updated on