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COVID symptoms in different age groups

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

We’ve lived alongside this virus for a good while now, and we’ve all received the US government’s message about the three key symptoms that point to a COVID-19 infection. These are a persistent cough, high fever and a change to your sense of taste or smell.

But there’s evidence that these symptoms are less common in some groups. We should be aware of other symptoms as they may warrant isolating and getting a COVID PCR test. Researchers have found that differences can exist by age, sex, ethnicity and other health problems. Let’s take you through what we know so far.

What are the earliest symptoms?

Researchers have analyzed data and report that the most common early symptoms include: loss of smell, chest pain, persistent cough, abdominal pain, blisters on the feet, eye soreness and unusual muscle pain. Fever may be present in later disease.

There are possible differences in symptoms with different variants. They may be less likely to cause loss of smell and a cough, and more likely to cause a headache, sore throat, runny nose and fever. Research continues to evolve on this front.

How does COVID affect the elderly?

Evidence from early COVID infection has shown that the over-60s were less likely to report changes to their sense of taste or smell, but diarrhea was a commonly reported symptom.

For those over 80, diarrhea, a sore throat, chest pain, unusual muscle pain and chills or shivers were more likely early on.

Eye pain was common in all age groups, but those aged 16 to 39 were more likely to complain of loss of smell, chest pain, shortness of breath and abdominal pain in the first 3 days.

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Do men and women suffer differently?

Men were more likely to report shortness of breath, fatigue, chills and fever in the first 3 days of symptoms. Women, on the other hand, were more likely to suffer loss of smell, chest pain and a persistent cough.

Does vaccination change symptoms?

Those who are fully vaccinated had different symptoms to those not yet vaccinated. Vaccination was protective so people suffered fewer symptoms and they were milder. The top five most reported symptoms were: headache, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and loss of taste or smell. Fever and shortness of breath were far down the list, as was a persistent cough, compared to those who were unvaccinated or had only received one injection, where these symptoms were more common.

  • Information correct on 7 March 2023

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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