Coronavirus and COVID-19

If you have symptoms of coronavirus

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are: 

  • high temperature
  • a new continuous cough
  • loss or change in your sense of smell and a reduced sense of taste
  • shortness of breath

But people can also have other, less common symptoms, including aches and pains, feeling very tired, diarrhoea, feeling nauseous or vomiting, stomach pain, loss of appetite, coughing up a lot of phlegm, sore throat, confusion, dizziness, blocked or runny nose, conjunctivitis, headache, skin rashes, and chilblains.

If you suspect you have COVID symptoms, you will need to self-isolate. Do not leave home. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. This helps stop the virus spreading to other people. Find out below about how to get a test for coronavirus.

Use the 111 online coronavirus service if you’re not sure what to do, or if you are shielding. Call 111 if you cannot get help online. 111 will tell you what to do or help you get a test to check if you have coronavirus. You can also ask for a test yourself.

Staying at home if you have symptoms

If your symptoms are mild, you must not leave your home. This is called self-isolation. 

Anyone with symptoms must self-isolate for 7 days from when their symptoms started. And anyone who does not have symptoms must self-isolate for 14 days from when the first person in the home started to have symptoms.

After 7 days:

  • If you don’t have a high temperature, you do not need to self-isolate. If you just have a cough, you don’t need to self-isolate. A cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.
  • If you still have a high temperature, keep self-isolating until your temperature returns to normal. 

At any time, use the 111 online coronavirus service if you feel you can’t cope with your symptoms at home or your conditions get worse.

Ring your GP or get in touch with NHS 111 as soon as possible if: 

  • You slowly start feeling more unwell or more breathless for 2 or more hours. 
  • You’re having difficulty breathing when you get up to go to the toilet or similar. 
  • You sense something is wrong - you’re generally weak, extremely tired, lost your appetite, the amount of urine you produce has reduced or you feel unable to care for yourself – simple tasks like washing and dressing or making food.

Ring 999 if: 

  • You can’t finish short sentences when you’re resting because you’re so out of breath. 
  • Your breathing suddenly worsens within an hour. 

OR if these more general signs of serious illness develop. You are: 

  • coughing up blood
  • have blue lips or a blue face 
  • feel cold and sweaty with pale or blotchy skin 
  • have a rash that does not fade when you roll a glass over it 
  • collapse or faint 
  • become agitated, confused or very drowsy 
  • have stopped peeing or are peeing much less than usual

Measuring the oxygen levels in your blood

After assessing how COVID is affecting you and your breathing, your  GP may decide that it would be useful to be able to measure the oxygen levels in your blood, and may arrange for you to have a pulse oximeter at home. This will help them to be able to keep an eye on you at home and let them know when it will be safer for you to be seen and treated at the hospital.

They will talk to you about how to get a pulse oximeter to you. They will tell you how to use it and how to record your blood oxygen levels in a diary – they may use a video call to talk you through this – and arrange how often you should let them know your readings. They'll also explain when you might need to seek medical help sooner.

If you live with someone who is at higher risk from COVID-19

It’s particularly important to try to avoid spreading the infection to someone who is 70 or over, who has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system. If you live with someone at higher risk, it’s a good idea to find somewhere else for them to stay while you are self-isolating.

If you have to stay at home with other people – at higher risk or not – there are things you can do to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. For example, try to keep 2 metres away from each other and avoid using shared spaces like kitchen at the same time. Read about how to avoid spreading the virus to people you live with.

Test and trace strategy

The government strategy now is to try to identify anyone with symptoms of COVID-19, or who has come into contact with someone with symptoms, and to test those people as quickly as possible to see if they do have the infection. This will help to reduce the risk that they spread the infection to other people.

Whatever you have heard on the news about people ignoring government advice, or delays in setting up some of the systems to support testing and tracing, the only way we will be able to get through the current crisis is to follow some common sense rules until a vaccine is available:

  • If you have symptoms, stay at home and get tested.
  • People you live with should also stay at home in case they also now have the virus.

Getting a test to check if you have coronavirus

If you have symptoms of COVID, you can ask for a test to check if you have the virus.

Ask for the test as soon as you have symptoms – don’t wait. You need to get the test done in the first 5 days of having symptoms.

People across the UK can ask for a test

  • For themselves if they have coronavirus symptoms now
  • For someone they live with, if they have coronavirus symptoms.

In England, you can ask for a test for a child who lives with you, however old they are. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, you can only get a test for a child if they are aged 5 or over.

The test involves using a long cotton bud to take a swab from the inside of your nose and the back of your throat.

There is very high demand for tests, and the government cannot guarantee you will get one if you ask for one. It depends on how many tests are available in your part of the country. You may be able to choose between driving to a testing centre or getting a home test kit in the post.

The NHS has answers to common questions about getting a test.

You and anyone you live with must stay at home and take steps to reduce the risk that you infect other people until you get your result.

What does my test result mean?

You can get 3 results:

  • negative
  • positive
  • unclear

A negative result means you can stop self-isolating if:

  • you feel well
  • everyone you live with also tests negative

The other results mean you need to self-isolate. And, if you test positive, a test and track service may get in contact with you. An unclear test means that something has gone wrong with processing the sample in the lab – this may mean that it needs to be repeated.

Read a detailed explanation of what to do for each result.

Test and trace service

Test and trace means that anyone with coronavirus symptoms will be traced. 

The service will help identify, contain and control coronavirus to reduce the spread of the virus and save lives.

You’ll be contacted by a test and trace service if you test positive for coronavirus.

You’ll be asked where you’ve been recently and who you’ve been in close contact with.

Close contact includes people in your household, people with whom you have had direct contact, or people you have been within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes.

Read more about the NHS Test and Trace Service in England.

If you’ve been in contact with someone who has coronavirus

To stop people unknowingly spreading the virus, if you’ve been in close contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus, you must self-isolate for 14 days even if you have no symptoms

The tracing service will get in touch with you. Have a look at this detailed advice from the NHS.

Need an isolation note for your employer?

If you have symptoms of coronavirus and have been told to self-isolate by an NHS website or a health care professional, you can get a note for your employer online.

You can also use this service if you live with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus.

If you feel well enough, and your employer agrees you can work from home, you don’t need an isolation note.

Recovering from COVID-19

We are still learning about COVID-19 and how it affects people in the short and long term. If you have had pneumonia as a result of COVID-19, like any pneumonia, it can take you some time to recover.

From our understanding so far, it seems to be taking people a while to recover after the worst of their illness. Some people have found they have trouble breathing afterwards. If you are affected in this way, talk to your health care professional. 

It is important to try to tell the difference between symptoms, such as feeling short of breath and cough that are part of your recovery from COVID-19, and symptoms of your long-term lung condition. Talk to your health care professional about this, and get advice urgently if your symptoms get worse at any time.

You can find out more on the Post-COVID HUB.


Recovering from coronavirus?

If you have breathing difficulties after coronavirus, find information and dedicated support for your physical and mental health.

Visit the post-covid hub


What you can read next:

Last updated: Tuesday 16 June 2020

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Last medically reviewed: November 2020. Due for review: November 2020

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.