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The Most Common COVID-19 Symptoms Have Changed – Here's What To Look For

Loss of smell and shortness of breath used to be tell-tale signs of COVID-19, but not so much anymore.


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

An ill woman covered in a blanket blows her nose.
Vaccinated people with COVID-19 are more likely to report sneezing as a symptom compared with those without a jab. Image credit: fizkes/

COVID-19 cases are ramping up for the winter in the Northern hemisphere once again, but this season we can expect to see the disease reveal itself through slightly different symptoms than before. Part of this is because different variants are currently doing the rounds and a different demographic of people are being infected – but it’s also a reflection of how vaccines, boosters, and infections have helped shift how our immune systems deal with the virus.

The ZOE COVID Study app has been keeping tabs on millions of people’s symptoms across the UK since the early days of the pandemic. They gather their heaps of data via an app through which people can self-report their COVID-19 cases and symptoms. 


As of October 25, they estimate that 2,894,159 people currently have symptomatic COVID-19 in the UK. That sounds a lot – and it is – but it’s actually down from around 3 million cases estimated two weeks ago. 

In their latest round-up, the ZOE research project reports the most common symptoms that are currently being seen in the UK. While symptoms are similar for most people across the board, they note some subtle differences between people who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated.

“There are a few reasons why symptoms may be changing, including the fact that those who have been vaccinated experience less severe symptoms, as well as more cases being reported by younger people, who we have found experience different, less severe symptoms as well,” they write in a blog post

The most commonly reported COVID-19 symptoms (in order) among fully vaccinated people are:

  1. Sore throat
  2. Runny nose
  3. Blocked nose
  4. Persistent cough
  5. Headache

For people who’ve had just one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the most commonly reported symptoms are: 

  1. Headache
  2. Runny nose
  3. Sore throat
  4. Sneezing
  5. Persistent cough

For unvaccinated people:

  1. Headache
  2. Sore Throat
  3. Runny Nose
  4. Fever
  5. Persistent cough

As you may have noticed, loss of smell and shortness of breath as totally disappeared from the top five most reported symptoms. In the first year of the pandemic, these two symptoms were a tell-tale indication of COVID-19 and they remain outlined on government websites as common symptoms. 

Unfortunately, this means mild and moderate cases of COVID-19 are now harder to discern from a common cold – which is all the more reason to keep testing and staying cautious if you suspect you might be feeling a bit under the weather. 


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