How to spot the difference between a cold and coronavirus

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At this time of year, sniffles and sneezes are common. But with the outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19) how can you tell the difference between a cold and something more serious? We ask medical professionals…

The difference between a cold and coronavirus

“We all know that feeling around this time of year when you start to feel run down. You feel hot then cold, your nose feels bunged up and that night-time cough keeps you from getting your eight hours of shut-eye,” says NHS doctor Dr. Frankie Jackson-Spence.

“Each winter we see a rise in the number of cases of the flu, which is caused by the influenza virus and the common cold, commonly caused by the rhinovirus. But this year, anxieties are high because how are you supposed to know if you have the yearly flu or the dreaded Covid-19?”

The answer, she says, is not straightforward. You can’t really tell just from symptoms alone.

“The flu presents differently in everyone, some people are knocked out in bed for a few days with fever, malaise, aches and pains and runny nose, others get a cough or a milder cold,” she explains.

“Coronavirus can have some overlapping features, including fever, cough and loss of taste or smell (which could also happen from a runny, bunged up nose), so it can be really difficult to know if it’s flu or coronavirus.”

Symptoms of coronavirus

While the symptoms do overlap, Dr. Hazel Wallace, doctor, nutritionist and founder of The Food Medic, says there are some important differences to look out for.

Most people with Covid-19 will have at least one of the key symptoms:

– High temperature

– New, continuous cough

– Loss or change to sense of smell or taste

“However, they may have other symptoms including headache, shortness of breath, fatigue, and diarrhoea – or may not have any symptoms at all,” Dr. Wallace adds.

Symptoms of a common cold

Typically, a cold will affect the upper airways. “A cold could cause loss of smell and taste, but unlike Covid-19 it is due to nasal congestion. A cold should not cause a fever,” says Dr. Wallace.

These are the most common symptoms:

– Runny/stuffy nose

– Sneezing

– Sore throat

– Mild cough

When to seek medical care

If you have one of the three main symptoms – a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – you should have a Covid test. “You do not need to go to hospital unless you need urgent medical help,” Dr. Wallace says. “Most people can recover at home from Covid-19.”

For more information and advice about Covid-19 visit the NHS website

Main image: Shutterstock

By Sam

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