Science / Health

5 Tell-Tale Signs That You Don’t Just Have A Cold

Almost all of us will suffer a runny nose and sore throat in the winter. But, since these are also two common symptoms of both COVID-19 and the flu, how can you be sure that what you are suffering from is just a common cold?

So, do you need to book a covid test, or should you take it easy for a few days until you feel better? In this short guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about colds, the flu, and COVID-19, to help you understand which condition you might be suffering from.

1. Your Symptoms Started Suddenly

Most of us know the warning signs of a cold coming on – you’ll start to feel the symptoms gradually over a couple of days. For example, you might wake up with a tickle in your throat one day, then a runny nose a day or two later.

However, if your symptoms suddenly hit you out of nowhere, what you are suffering from is likely more than a common cold. For example, if you’re coming down with the flu, you’ll notice your symptoms appear within a matter of hours rather than days. You might go to work feeling fine, but feel ready for bed after your lunch break. Remember, allergy symptoms can also start very suddenly upon exposure to the allergen.

Like the common cold, symptoms of COVID-19 tend to come on gradually over a couple of days. So, if you have any coronavirus symptoms, you should book a test straight away.

2. You Have a Fever

A high temperature is not typically associated with a cold in adults, so you have likely been infected with a flu virus or COVID-19 instead if you develop a high temperature. However,  other conditions can cause similar symptoms and a fever, including ear infections and chest infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

A fever is one of the main symptoms of coronavirus, so it’s best to get tested as soon as possible if you develop a high temperature. You can take simple medications such as Tylenol to help reduce your fever if you feel very uncomfortable.

Keep in mind that a fever over 100°F can get dangerous quickly in young children and the elderly. So ensure they get enough rest, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and seek medical help if their temperature doesn’t come down.

3. Your Symptoms Last Over a Week

You might have a lingering runny nose or tickly throat after a common cold, but if you still feel very unwell after a week or two, you are likely suffering from a different condition.

A cold can last for up to two weeks but usually only lasts for a few days. On the other hand, illnesses like COVID-19 can linger for weeks on end, or even months if you’re unlucky.

You should always consult your doctor if your symptoms have been going on for over a week and you aren’t beginning to feel any better. Try to keep track of your symptoms – when they developed and if they have been getting better or worse. Then, you can give your doctor more information, and they will make a more accurate diagnosis.

4. You’re Short of Breath

Feeling very out of breath can be quite alarming and is not usually associated with the common cold. If you feel like you can’t get enough air into your lungs, there’s a reasonable chance you might have been infected with the coronavirus.

It’s possible to feel breathless even if you aren’t doing anything. It could happen if you try to exert yourself too much when you are unwell, but the feeling of breathlessness can also come on even when you are at rest.

You might have a lot of mucus with your cough if you have a cold, but a dry cough is more typical of flu and COVID-19. With coronavirus, your cough may be so intense it leaves you feeling breathless.

Breathlessness associated with COVID-19 tends to appear from around the fourth day of infection onwards. So, if you haven’t had any other symptoms before feeling like you can’t breathe properly, it could be another condition, and you should get it checked out right away.

5. You Feel Fatigued and Have Aching Muscles

One of the easiest ways to distinguish between the flu and a cold is the presence of muscle aches and fatigue. It’s normal to feel tired and under the weather when you have a cold, but you are more likely to suffer from the flu if you feel exhausted.

You probably won’t feel too unwell to go about your daily routine with the common cold, although you may feel a bit miserable. However, if you have the flu, COVID-19, or any more severe infections, you are unlikely to feel able to go to work and do chores around the house.

What are the Symptoms of a Cold, COVID-19, and the Flu?

To help you figure out which illness you might be suffering from, here are some of the most common symptoms of the common cold, influenza, and COVID-19:

Common cold:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Mucus in the nose and throat
  • Sore throat


  • Headache
  • Fever or chills
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Runny or stuffy nose


  • Coughing
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Breathing difficulties or shortness of breath

As you can see, some symptoms are common to each of the three illnesses. If you have any of the main symptoms of COVID-19 (coughing, fever, or loss of taste or smell), you shouldn’t hesitate to book a test. Even if your test comes back negative, drink plenty of fluids and rest as much as you can until you feel well enough to go back to work.

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