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Monitoring COVID-19 symptoms

7-minute read

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

How will I know if my symptoms are mild, moderate or severe?

Mild symptoms

The following symptoms are considered mild:

Moderate symptoms

The following symptoms are considered moderate:

  • shortness of breath while walking around, such as noticeably having to breathe more heavily while walking around the house
  • persistent fever above 38oC and not responding to treatment
  • persistent worsening cough, regularly producing mucus
  • struggling to get out of bed and feeling dizzy or weak

Severe symptoms

The following symptoms are considered severe:

  • breathlessness at rest and or you’re unable to speak in sentences
  • 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

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the COVID-19 Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

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

If your symptoms worsen, you or your caregivers should call your GP for advice. If you can’t reach your GP straight away, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and tell the ambulance staff that you have COVID-19.

If you attend the emergency department (ED), contact them before attending to inform them that you have COVID-19. When you arrive, wear a surgical mask at all times and tell staff straight away that you have COVID-19.

When should I contact my GP during isolation?

You should contact your GP if you’re pregnant, have any chronic conditions or have any concerns about your health.

Ask yourself these questions 3 times a day — morning, afternoon and night. Can I get my own food? Can I drink? Can I go to the toilet normally? Can I take my regular medication? If you answer no to any of these questions, call your GP.

You should also contact your GP if you feel dizzy or lightheaded or your symptoms start to worsen.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has developed a guide for people managing COVID at home. This includes a COVID-19 action plan and a diary that you can use to track your symptoms.

If you’re at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19, your healthcare provider may consider giving you a pulse oximeter so you can monitor your oxygen saturation levels.

How do I check my oxygen level, heart rate (pulse), respiratory rate (breathing) and temperature?

It’s important to know how to check the following signs to monitor your health at home. It’s helpful for others in your home to also know how to check these, especially if you become quite ill.

Oxygen level

If you’ve been given a pulse oximeter, you may be asked to check your oxygen levels once or twice a day. The device clips over your finger. It does not hurt and only takes a minute to check your level.

You can also purchase a pulse oximeter from a pharmacy over the phone or online, and have it delivered to your home. Some smartphones and smartwatches have a pulse oximeter function, however these are not accurate and should not be used.

Pulse oximeter
An oximeter clips onto your finger.

If you are looking after a child with COVID-19 and are asked to monitor oxygen levels, you might require a pulse oximeter specially designed for children. Your GP or nurse will discuss this with you.

When testing your oxygen:

  1. Remove any nail polish or false nails. These can interfere with the device.
  2. Wash your hands with warm water and thoroughly dry them. The device works best when your hands are warm.
  3. Sit in an upright position.
  4. Give your fingers a wiggle and rub them to get the blood flowing.
  5. Attach the clip to one of your fingers so that the tip of your finger is touching the end of the device. The palm of your hand should be pointing down, and the screen of the pulse oximeter should be pointing up so you can read it.
  6. Keep your hand and fingers still.
  7. Breathe normally and restfully.
  8. After waiting for 1 minute, record the number next to the SpO2 symbol.

Your oxygen level should be 95% or higher. If it’s lower than this, then it could be a sign you need more frequent check-ups with your GP or nurse, or that it is safer for you to be in hospital.

If you are not getting a reading, or if the reading is under 95%, give your fingers a wiggle, take a few breaths and try the device on a different finger.

If it is still low, contact your GP or nurse.

Heart rate (pulse)

Your pulse oximeter can also check your heart rate. Your pulse is your heart rate, and this is the number showing next to the PR (pulse rate) or BPM (beats per minute) symbol.

Some smartphones and smartwatches have a heart rate function, however these are not accurate and should not be used. If you don’t have a pulse oximeter, you can check your heart rate manually by placing your index and middle fingers of one hand on the opposite wrist under the thumb.

With your fingers lightly on your wrist, you can count the number of beats that you feel over 30 seconds. You then need to calculate the beats per minute by doubling the number of beats you counted over 30 seconds. This number is your heart rate.

Respiratory rate (breathing)

Try to relax and breathe normally. Set a timer for 30 seconds, and start to count the number of times you breathe in and out before the time is up. Double this number and this will be your respiratory rate per minute.

Your GP or nurse can also count your respiratory rate by watching your chest rise and fall when doing a video check-up. If you can’t check your own respiratory rate, think about if you are:

  • breathless when you walk
  • breathless when you are sitting
  • breathless when you are speaking

Make a note to discuss with your GP if feelings of breathlessness are getting better, worse or remain the same.


If you don’t have a thermometer at home, you can buy one from a pharmacy over the phone or online, and have it delivered to your home. Each thermometer is different, so follow the directions from the manufacturer, or ask your GP or nurse.

Looking for more information?

Visit healthdirect's COVID-19 information hub for more answers to questions about the coronavirus, including vaccinations and restrictions.

Resources in other languages

COVID-19 resources in other languages are available from the Department of Health, as well as from the ACT, NSW, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic and WA health departments.

Information is also available in Aboriginal languages (NT).

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

Last reviewed: January 2022

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