Doctor On Demand Blog

Winter is traditionally cold and flu season, but this year, the new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is also spreading widely. All three conditions share some overlapping symptoms, so it may be hard to figure out what’s causing your cough or fever.

The following guide may help you tell the difference between these viral illnesses. Checking with a doctor is the best way to get a diagnosis.

Symptoms of colds

Anyone with a cold may experience:

  • sore throat
  • cough
  • stuffed-up or runny nose
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes

Symptoms of the flu

People who have the flu may experience:

  • sore throat
  • cough
  • stuffed-up or runny nose (less common)
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • fever
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea and vomiting (less common)
  • diarrhea (less common)

Symptoms of coronavirus (Covid-19)

People with coronavirus may experience:

  • sore throat
  • cough
  • stuffed-up or runny nose (less common)
  • sneezing (uncommon)
  • fever (sometimes)
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea and vomiting (less common)
  • diarrhea (less common)
  • sudden loss of taste or smell

Ways that colds, flu and coronavirus differ

The most notable symptom unique to coronavirus is the sudden loss of taste or smell.

How quickly you feel ill may suggest that you have one condition or the other. Colds usually develop gradually, while the flu comes on suddenly. Some people with coronavirus develop symptoms gradually; others feel sick more suddenly.

Testing options for flu and coronavirus

There are no tests that check for common colds, but you can get tested for the flu and/or coronavirus. (It’s possible to be infected with more than one virus; some people may get the flu and coronavirus simultaneously.) Your doctor may test you for flu, coronavirus or both, depending on your symptoms.

Many flu tests provide results quickly, within a few minutes to a few hours. Some coronavirus test results are available within a few hours; others take a day or more. To limit the spread of illness, self-quarantine at home until you get your test results.

How to protect yourself from colds, flu and coronavirus this winter

The same lifestyle habits which lower your chances of getting coronavirus should also help limit your exposure to colds and the flu. Follow these practices:

  • wear a mask over your nose and mouth when you’re around people from other households
  • limit the time that you spend in indoor spaces, aside from your home, and keep your mask on
  • stay away from crowds, especially when people gather indoors
  • wash your hands often, and use hand sanitizer when you are out
  • get a flu shot

If you’re concerned about your symptoms, Doctor On Demand’s board-certified providers are available for video visits 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our providers will listen to your concerns, evaluate your symptoms and can provide treatment, including sending prescriptions to your local pharmacy. They can also send you for a coronavirus test in your community.

Related posts