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COVID-19 symptoms

11-minute read

If you develop symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately. Tell the phone operator and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.

Quick read

Learn about mild, moderate and severe COVID-19 symptoms, and when to seek medical advice.

Check your symptoms

You can use the healthdirect Symptom Checker online to check your symptoms and find out if you might need medical help.

The COVID-19 incubation period ranges from 1 to 14 days. This is the time between when a person is exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 and when their symptoms first appear. Most people develop symptoms 5 to 6 days after being exposed to the virus.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

Which COVID-19 symptoms are mild, moderate or severe?

Mild symptoms


The following symptoms are considered mild in adults:

Some adults have no symptoms at all.


The following symptoms are considered mild in children:

  • mild upper respiratory tract symptoms such as a congested or runny nose, sneezing, or a scratchy or sore throat
  • cough with no difficulty breathing
  • not drinking as much fluid (such as water) as usual in the last 24 hours
  • mild vomiting and diarrhoea (fewer than 4 times in the last 24 hours)
  • mild headache or body aches
  • mild fever
  • mild fatigue

Some children have no symptoms at all.

Moderate symptoms


The following symptoms are considered moderate in adults:

  • shortness of breath while walking around such as noticeably having to breathe more heavily while walking around the house
  • persistent fever above 38oC that's not responding to treatment
  • persistent worsening cough that regularly produces mucus
  • struggling to get out of bed and feeling dizzy or weak
  • reduced fluid intake (drinking) over the last 24 hours (but more than half the normal intake)
  • reduced urine output ('weeing') over the last 24 hours (producing less urine, but more than half the normal amount)
  • vomiting or diarrhoea (more than 4 times in the last 24 hours, of either)


The following symptoms are considered moderate in children:

  • mild breathlessness but able to speak in sentences and eat, and comfortable while resting
  • drinking less fluid (such as water) in the last 24 hours but more than half the normal intake
  • not producing much urine (‘wee’) over the last 24 hours but more than half the normal amount
  • vomiting or diarrhoea (more than 4 times in the last 24 hours, of either)
  • unable or unwilling to stand or walk
  • persistent high fever (temperature of greater than 38oC) that’s not responding to treatment
  • 3 months or younger with any fever (a temperature higher than 38oC)

Severe symptoms


The following symptoms are considered severe in adults:

  • breathlessness at rest and/or unable to speak in sentences
  • being unconscious, fainting or drowsy
  • skin turning blue or pale
  • cold and clammy, or pale and mottled, skin
  • pain or pressure in the chest lasting more than 10 minutes
  • confusion
  • passing no urine (‘wee’) or a lot less urine than usual
  • coughing up blood
  • severe headache

If you are experiencing any severe symptoms call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and tell the ambulance staff that you have COVID-19.


The following symptoms are considered severe in children:

  • high-pitched wheezing sound while breathing (stridor)
  • gurgling or grunting while breathing
  • working very hard to breathe, or using chest or abdominal (tummy) muscles to breathe
  • being too breathless to speak or feed, or long pauses between breaths
  • nostril flaring
  • turning blue around the mouth or lips
  • head bobbing
  • skin feels unusually cold and sweaty
  • skin colour looks 'patchy' or very pale
  • unconscious, drowsy, or floppy or limp
  • not drinking a lot fluids (such as water) in the last 24 hours (less than half their normal intake)
  • not producing much urine ('wee') in the last 24 hours (less than half their normal amount)
  • severe headache that is so bad that they can’t do normal tasks involving movement, keep their eyes open, read, watch TV or concentrate — a baby or young child might not want to move their head, and they may screw up their eyes or grimace in pain

If your child has any of these symptoms call triple zero (000) right now and ask for an ambulance.

Less common symptoms

A skin rash is a less common symptom of COVID-19. It may occur at different stages of the disease and in different forms. This may happen in both adults and children.

You should discuss skin changes related to COVID-19 with a doctor. Treatment may be needed in some instances.

Learn more about what to do if you develop COVID-19 symptoms and when you should seek medical advice or go to hospital.

How is COVID-19 different from influenza (the flu)?

COVID-19 and the flu are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2. The seasonal flu is caused by various influenza viruses.

Both diseases cause respiratory symptoms, such as sore throat, runny nose, cough and fever. Severe cases of the flu can sometimes make otherwise healthy people, children and pregnant females very sick too.

How does COVID-19 affect children?

Generally, COVID-19 is milder in children than in adults. Most children with symptoms experience similar illness to other respiratory infections, including fever, cough, runny nose and tiredness. Some children may have gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhoea or vomiting.

Although rare, some children may need hospitalisation and a smaller number may need intensive care. Studies show that children and adolescents with underlying medical conditions have a greater risk of severe disease and complications from COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

Some children may need hospitalisation and a smaller number may need to have intensive care. Studies have shown that children and adolescents with underlying medical conditions have a greater risk of developing severe disease and complications from COVID-19.

Conditions that increase risk for severe illness with COVID-19 include but are not limited to:

  • type 1 diabetes
  • obesity
  • being born premature
  • heart disease including some congenital conditions
  • immunocompromising conditions
  • complex and chronic illnesses

Visit Pregnancy, Birth and Baby for more information on children and COVID-19.

Who is more at risk from COVID-19?

Some people are more at risk of becoming very sick from COVID-19. If you are more at risk and are feeling unwell, take a test immediately then speak to a doctor as soon as you can if the result is positive.

You are at a high risk of becoming very sick from COVID-19 and needing hospital treatment if you:

  • are 70 years of age or older
  • are 50 years of age or older with 2 risk factors including neurological disease, chronic lung disease (including moderate or severe asthma needing inhaled steroids), obesity, heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease
  • are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person who’s 30 years of age or older with one of the risk factors mentioned above
  • are 18 years of age or older and moderately to severely immunocompromised
  • live in a rural or remote area with limited healthcare services
  • live in a residential aged-care facility
  • have complex and significant disability
  • are pregnant
  • are on immunosuppressants
  • have certain health conditions

Older people

The risk of serious illness from COVID-19 increases with age, particularly for people over 70 years old. This risk increases if you have a chronic condition or a weakened immune system.

People living with dementia or some form of cognitive condition may be less able to follow instructions or to let others know about possible COVID-19 symptoms.

People with disability

Some people with disability will be at greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19 because they may:

  • have a chronic condition, or different conditions that overlap
  • have a weak immune system
  • have difficulties physical distancing, especially people who rely on support and assistance from family, carers and support workers
  • be unable to safely wear a mask
  • live in higher-risk accommodation such as group homes or larger facilities

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people living in remote communities are at greater risk of COVID-19 because of factors such as higher rates of health issues and less access to healthcare services.


If you are pregnant and have COVID-19, you have a higher risk of hospitalisation, ventilation, premature birth, stillbirth, or your baby needing special care. If you have any of the following conditions, you’re more likely to have severe illness if you get COVID-19 during pregnancy:

  • being older than 35 years
  • being overweight or obese
  • pre-existing high blood pressure
  • pre-existing type 1 or type 2 diabetes

Visit Pregnancy, Birth and Baby for more information about pregnancy and COVID-19.

People who are immunocompromised

If you have a weakened immune system, you are more likely to become severely unwell with COVID-19. You are considered moderately to severely immunocompromised if you have:

  • been living with disability with multiple conditions including frailty
  • blood cancer or some red blood cell disorders (thalassemia, sickle cell disease)
  • been a transplant recipient
  • a primary or an acquired (HIV) immunodeficiency
  • had chemotherapy or whole-body radiotherapy in the last 3 months
  • had high dose corticosteroids or pulse corticosteroid therapy in the last 3 months
  • had immunosuppressive treatments in the last 3 months
  • had rituximab in the last 12 months
  • cerebral palsy or Down Syndrome
  • congenital heart disease
  • certain medical conditions, listed below

People with underlying health conditions

Conditions that can increase your risk of severe COVID-19 illness include:

  • chronic kidney failure
  • heart disease
  • chronic lung disease — excluding mild or moderate asthma
  • blood cancer such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myelodysplastic syndrome
  • non-haematological cancer (diagnosed in the past 5 years)
  • childhood cancer
  • diabetes
  • severe obesity with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 kilograms per square metres or more
  • chronic liver disease
  • some neurological conditions such as stroke or dementia
  • some chronic inflammatory conditions needing treatment
  • poorly controlled blood pressure
  • severe mental health condition
Understand the symptoms infographic tile Click here to download this infographic in PDF format

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2023

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