Is Shortness of Breath an Early Symptom of Pneumonia Due to COVID-19?

Reviewed on 6/2/2022
Woman with pneumonia caused by COVID-19 experiencing shortness of breath
Shortness of breath may be a sign of pneumonia due to COVID-19. In addition to shortness of breath, common symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, fever or chills, changes in taste and/or smell, fatigue, nausea, headache, body aches, diarrhea, feeling unwell (malaise), loss of appetite, sore throat, congestion, and runny nose.

COVID-19 is a novel (new) coronavirus, not previously identified in humans, that is responsible for an outbreak of respiratory illness that became a global pandemic in 2020. COVID-19 is different from other coronaviruses that cause mild illness, such as the common cold.

Shortness of breath (dyspnea) is an uncomfortable feeling of being unable to breathe in enough air or feeling as if it’s difficult to breathe or you need to breathe harder. Shortness of breath is a common symptom of COVID-19 that usually occurs about 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.  

Shortness of breath may be a sign of pneumonia due to COVID-19

In addition to shortness of breath, common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

Call 911 or go to a hospital’s emergency department if you have symptoms of COVID-19 such as:  

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion 
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

How Is COVID-19 Diagnosed?

COVID-19 is diagnosed with a physical examination and a patient history which includes asking the patient about any known recent exposure to the virus. 

If COVID-19 is suspected, diagnostic tests include: 

  • PCR tests (genetic or molecular test) 
    • Results can take hours to up to one week
    • More accurate than an antigen test
  • Antigen test
    • Results are available in less than one hour
    • Less accurate than a PCR test

An antibody test may be used to determine if a person had a past COVID-19 infection, but it is not used to diagnose current infections because it takes up to 3 weeks following infection for the body to produce antibodies to the virus. 

What Is the Treatment for COVID-19?

There is no specific treatment for COVID-19, and supportive care is aimed at relieving symptoms in mild cases. 

In mild cases, staying home and self-isolating for 14 days is recommended to avoid spreading the virus. Treatments for mild COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Pain relievers 
  • Cough suppressants
  • Rest
  • Adequate fluid intake
  • Anti-viral medications by prescription

Monoclonal antibodies may be prescribed for symptomatic cases of COVID-19 in individuals at increased risk for severe disease. Monoclonal antibodies are not indicated for use in severe cases.

More severe COVID-19 cases may require hospitalization and treatments may include:

  • Antiviral therapy with remdesivir 
  • Corticosteroids 
  • Immunotherapy 
  • Antithrombotic therapy - anticoagulants and antiplatelet therapy 
  • High-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) oxygen 
  • Ventilation 
Reviewed on 6/2/2022
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