Do I Have COVID-19, the Flu, a Cold, or Something Else?

Sep 20, 2022
 Do I Have COVID-19, the Flu, a Cold, or Something Else?
Are you worried about that sore throat or fever? It used to be hard enough to tell the difference between a cold and the flu, but now that COVID-19 is around, it can feel even trickier. Fortunately, there are some subtle ways to tell them apart.

If you’ve been confused by the common cold, flu, and COVID-19, you’re not alone. These respiratory illnesses have a lot in common:

  • They’re all contagious
  • They’re all viral infections
  • They all cause many of the same symptoms 

However, despite their similarities, a few key differences set them apart.

At Comprehensive Care Clinic in Spring, Texas, Tyneza Mitchell, FNP, offers specialized family medical services for people of all ages, including children. In this post, she shares insights into these common illnesses and when it could be something else.

The similarities between a cold, the flu, and COVID-19

First, let’s look at the similarities these illnesses share. 

To start, they all spread by viruses in respiratory droplets. Simply put, you can catch a cold, flu, or COVID-19 by touching an infected surface or inhaling droplets from an infected person and then touching your nose, eyes, or mouth.

The second big similarity these illnesses share involves symptoms. Once infected, a cold, flu, and COVID-19 can cause:

  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Headache
  • Muscle ache
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

Many of these symptoms are quite common with COVID-19 and the flu. In fact, you can also have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, making it even trickier to diagnose your condition on symptoms alone. However, several of these symptoms are less common with a cold — especially muscle aches, fatigue, and fever. But the differences don’t stop there.

The differences between a cold, the flu, and COVID-19

The reason these illnesses are different starts with the fact that they have different viruses causing them. As a result, they affect the body in different ways.

Start of symptoms

One major difference between these respiratory illnesses involves when symptoms begin after exposure. In most cases, you start feeling sick when you have the flu within 1-4 days. Similarly, cold symptoms typically come within 1-3 days.

COVID-19 symptoms often arise within 2-14 days of exposure. And, for many, COVID-19 can cause more severe symptoms, including loss of taste or smell. 

Potential complications

Generally speaking, the common cold comes with few health risks — it just leaves you feeling poorly for 3-10 days. While the flu comes with more risks than a cold, COVID-19 brings higher rates of more serious illness, including dangerous complications, such as blood clots and lung injury, which also means higher mortality rates.

Treatments and vaccines

If you’ve had a cold, you likely know you have to let it run its course. Meanwhile, there are three antiviral drugs for the flu and one for COVID-19.

Similarly, there’s no vaccine against the common cold, but you can get vaccines for the flu and COVID-19. Getting vaccinated against these two illnesses can reduce your risk of getting sick or having severe symptoms if you do.

When it could be something else

When you have respiratory symptoms, it’s easy to assume they’re from a cold, flu, or COVID-19. However, another pesky problem can trigger some of these symptoms — seasonal allergies.

Common signs of seasonal allergies include:

  • Itchy eyes, nose, mouth, or inner ear
  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Cough
  • Fatigue

However, these responses develop because of an allergen, such as tree or grass pollen. They also don’t cause muscle aches, fever, or difficulty breathing, unless you have asthma.

At the end of the day, the best way to find out if you have a cold, flu, COVID-19, or something else involves a visit to the doctor. They can help reach a diagnosis quickly and provide you with the care you need.

Are you feeling unwell? Schedule an appointment at Comprehensive Care Clinic by calling 832-968-8090 or booking a visit online today.