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  • Dark, Dreary, SAD
    Often blamed on the winter blues, seasonal affective disorder is a diagnosable mental disorder that affects thousands of people each year. Are you one of them? Read >>
  • Cold, Flu, or COVID-19?
    In past years, when you got a runny nose and scratchy throat, you had to figure out if it was a cold or the flu. The introduction of COVID-19 is making things a bit trickier. Thankfully, there are ways to tell them apart. Read >>
  • Stressed Out?
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Cold, Flu, or COVID-19?

This winter, it’s a guessing game.

In past years, when you got a runny nose and scratchy throat, you had to figure out if it was a cold or the flu. The introduction of COVID-19 is making things a bit trickier. This is a complicated problem, as the new coronavirus often presents as mild cold or severe flu symptoms or somewhere in between. If you do have COVID, then special precautions must be taken to avoid spreading it to others.

Thankfully, there are ways to tell them apart. In most cases, a cold, the flu, and COVID-19 have telltale symptoms. Here’s what to look for this season.

Catching Cold

Cold symptoms usually come on gradually. You may feel a slight sore throat one day and start a runny nose the next. A mild cough may develop and sneezing is common.

You won’t experience shortness of breath with a cold unless you have asthma that worsens with congestion. Fever is rare with a cold, but possible. If you have a cold-related fever, it will be low and short-lived.

Also, chills and diarrhea don’t accompany the common cold. It’s also rare to have a headache with a cold, but you may feel achy and fatigued. With severe congestion, it is possible to temporarily lose your sense of taste or smell with a cold.

No matter what symptoms you suffer, your cold will usually last fewer than two weeks. If you’re exposed to a cold virus, your symptoms will start up within three days.

Finding Flu

Unlike a cold, flu symptoms usually come on suddenly. You felt fine all day but by evening you know you’re coming down with something.
The most common symptoms of the flu include fever, body aches, headache, a dry cough, and fatigue. Some people with the flu also experience congestion or a runny nose, sore throat, and chills.

While you may have congestion, the flu doesn’t make you sneeze. As with a cold, the flu can cause you to lose your sense of smell or taste. Again, this is due to congestion, so if you can’t breathe out your nose, food may lose its flavor.
With the flu, people with asthma may feel more short of breath than usual. Otherwise, shortness of breath doesn’t occur.

Kids with the flu may have gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting, but this is rare in adults. Symptoms generally last one to two weeks and take up to four days to kick in.

Carrying COVID-19

Unlike the flu, COVID symptoms tend to come on gradually. As the day progresses you tend to feel worse. However, you shouldn’t expect to feel symptoms immediately. Symptoms of COVID-19 take as long as 14 days to arrive.

Once they do, telltale signs include fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and loss of taste or smell. You may also have congestion, runny nose, headache, body aches, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea, shaking, and chills.
Respiratory symptoms tend to worsen after about eight days. Around 20 percent of patients with COVID-19 develop severe symptoms, including pneumonia or respiratory failure. In this case, hospitalization, oxygen, and ventilation may be required. Symptoms typically last 7 to 25 days.

Get Tested

Any time you have cold or flu-like symptoms, call your doctor for recommendations on testing and treatment. In most cases, your doctor will recommend you get tested for COVID to be on the safe side. Getting tested is the only way to confirm diagnosis.

Whether it’s a cold, the flu, or COVID-19, be kind and isolate yourself from others to prevent spreading the virus.