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    COVID-19
    1234 · 20 min read

    How to Tell the Difference Between a Cold, COVID, or the Flu

    Am I suffering from a Cold, COVID, or the Flu?

    In the current climate, it can be very difficult to know what exactly you are suffering from when you aren’t quite feeling yourself. With COVID 19 being so prevalent in everyone's minds, it can be easy to misdiagnose yourself as suffering from COVID. However, the majority of the time you may in fact only have a common cold, or at worst the flu. In this article, we will give you all the information you need to determine whether you have COVID, a cold, or the flu, so you can avoid further self-misdiagnosis. 

    Google Web Story: How to Tell the Difference Between a Cold, COVID, or the Flu

    UK Meds have created a Google Web Story to summarise how to tell the difference between a common cold, COVID or the Flu, which you can view below:

    Have I got COVID?

    COVID-19 has become a prominent illness in the UK, with over 21million infections being reported in England (GOV.UK, 2023). But, do you know how to differentiate COVID to other, similar illnesses? COVID-19 is named as such, as it was the coronavirus that was discovered in 2019 (Spiteri et al, 2020). Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause illness in humans, with some other prominent coronaviruses being SARS and MERS (BMJ, 2023).

    You can do lateral flow tests in order to check whether or not you have COVID-19, however these are no longer being provided to the general public for free. I you wish to purchase a lateral flow test you can do so here at UK Meds.

    Video: Coronavirus explained in 60 seconds

    During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom in 2020, the BBC put togther a 60 second video explaining what the coronavirus is, which you can watch below. It is important to remember that the knowledge of COVID has improved since 2020 and there may be more current research available to improve your understanding of the coronavirus.

    What are the symptoms of COVID?

    The symptoms of COVID-19 have been a highly talked about point of conversation, and the majority of people are aware of the main ones. According to the NHS (2023), the symptoms of COVID include:

    • a high temperature or shivering

    • a new, continuous cough

    • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

    • shortness of breath

    • feeling tired or exhausted

    • an aching body

    • a headache

    • a sore throat

    • a blocked or runny nose

    • loss of appetite

    • diarrhoea

    • feeling sick or being sick

    Is a change or loss of taste still a symptom of COVID?

    One of the most commonly reported symptoms of COVID-19 was a change, or loss, of taste and smell (BMJ, 2023). There have been some theories that this is not in fact linked to COVID but could be caused by other medical conditions (NHS, 2021), however, it remains one of the more telltale symptoms of coronavirus. If you are feeling unwell and you begin to experience a loss of taste or smell, chances are that you have COVID-19. To ensure that it is COVID you are suffering from, you should do a lateral flow test to make sure (GOV.UK, 2021). 

    Video: How to do a COVID-19 lateral flow test

    The Department of Health and Social Care have put together a helpful instructional video on how to use a lateral flow test which you can watch below:

    Lateral flow test kits can vary slightly from the version used in the example, so please always check the instruction leaflet in your kit for the most appropriate instructions for your specific LFT kit.

    Can I leave home if I have COVID?

    One of the major effects that COVID-19 had on everyday life when cases first began to rise was the lockdown. People had to stay in their homes, and would only be able to go outside to visit the shops to buy essentials such as food.

    Video: Look back at events since the UK first went into lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic

    News outlet Sky News covered the events that took place since the United Kingdom first went into lockdown in 2021 in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Relive some of the highlights in the video below:

    As the cases of COVID-19 began to decrease and vaccines became available, the need to stay at home diminished. Currently, there are absolutely no legal restrictions imposed on the people of the United Kingdom, and you do not need to stay at home, even if you do test positive (Acas, 2023). There are currently also no legal requirements to wear a face mask although it is advised to wear a face covering if you are suffering from COVID-19 (or even if you aren’t) if you are planning to be in close contact with someone who is at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell from COVID-19 (GOV.UK, 2022).

    How do I know when to stay at home?

    This does not mean that people cannot stay home if they wish. It is currently up to people whether or not they stay home when they test positive with COVID-19. One of the major developments to come out of the coronavirus pandemic was the way companies adapted their methods of working to allow for employees to work from home (Deole et al, 2023). When someone tests positive for COVID-19, chances are they will be able to continue working from home if they choose to isolate. 

    Who is at high risk of COVID?

    Unfortunately, there are members of the community who are at a higher risk of developing harmful COVID symptoms. The people who are most at risk of suffering badly from COVID are people who are older, overweight, pregnant and people who suffer from pre-exisiting health conditions, especially those with conditions that affect the respiratory system (NHS, 2023). 

    What can I do if I’m worried about my COVID symptoms?

    If you are showing signs of COVID-19 and are concerned that you may be suffering from coronavirus, it is important that you do a lateral flow test in order to ensure that it is in fact COVID you have. If you do a lateral flow test that is positive you should report this to the NHS, so that they can contact you about appropriate treatment (NHS, 2023). You should then choose whether to isolate or not. If your symptoms are bad, contact your doctor immediately. People that have received their vaccines may experience less severe symptoms (BMJ, 2023; NHS Inform, 2023).

    x ray image of coronovirus / COVID-19 molecule floating around in the lungs

    Have I got a cold?

    On average, an adult in the UK will experience a cold at least two or three times a year and children in the UK will experience an average of five to eight colds in a year (NICE, 2022).

    Video: How a common cold develops

    Bupa Health UK explain how the common cold virus develops in humans in the video overview below:

    Remember, the video above is not a substitute for seeking medical advice and that you should always seek medical advice from a qualified health professional if you feel that you are suffering from any medical condition as soon as possible.

    A cold can be mild, with some minor symptoms, or it can be more aggressive (Allan & Arroll, 2014). There are many variants of the common cold (Wein, H., 2009).

    But, how can you tell when you have a cold, and not something else?

    What are the symptoms of a cold?

    According to the NHS (2021) the main symptoms of the common cold include:

    • A runny nose

    • A persistent cough

    • Congestion in the nose and around the eyes

    • A sore throat

    • A headache/ear ache

    Cold symptoms are usually minor and should not cause too much harm (Mayo Clinic, 2023). If you are suffering from severe symptoms of a cold, you should contact your doctor. If you are suffering from cold-like symptoms, you may wish to do a lateral flow test in order to determine whether or not you have COVID-19 or not. 

    How do I treat a cold?

    To treat a cold you can use cold and flu medicines and natural remedies that can help to deal with symptoms, making it much more bearable (Pappas, D., 2017; Collins & Moles, 2019). Cough medicine and medicine for runny noses is ideal for treating symptoms of colds. Other than that, time is your best friend when it comes to recovering from a cold. 

    Have I got flu?

    The flu is perhaps the condition that can be most commonly associated with COVID-19. Both COVID-19 and the flu are respiratory diseases that can be transmitted from person to person, however, they are definitely different. 

    Video: What is influenza?

    The World Health Organisation have created a helpful 2 minute video providing an explanation of the flu (influenza) which you can watch below:

    What are the symptoms of the flu?

    Flu-like symptoms are very similar to COVID symptoms, which is perhaps why many people will become confused about what they have. The main flu symptoms according to NHS Inform (2023) are:

    • a sudden high temperature of 38C or above

    • an aching body

    • feeling tired or exhausted

    • a dry cough

    • a sore throat

    • a headache

    • difficulty sleeping

    • loss of appetite

    • diarrhoea or tummy pain

    • feeling sick and being sick

    As many of these symptoms are the same as COVID, it can be hard to tell the difference (NIA, 2022). In order to be sure of what you have, taking a lateral flow test is advised. 

    How do I treat the flu?

    The best way to treat the flu is to get plenty of rest and sleep whilst remaining as warm as you can (NHS, 2023). During this time you can take paracetamol or ibuprofen in order to regulate your symptoms and temperature (NHS Inform, 2023). You should also make sure to drink plenty of water in order to avoid dehydration (NHS, 2023). If you become dehydrated, your symptoms can worsen. 

    How can I check if I have a fever / high temperature?

    When you have the flu, you may experience a high temperature, or fever (NHS Inform, 2022). You can check the temperature of yourself or another person by using a thermometer, or by pressing the back of the hand to the forehead. If the forehead is hot, chances are the person is suffering from a high temperature. You can however use digital thermometers for a quick, accurate reading. Or you can use a traditional thermometer to test temperature. A fever, or high temperature, is considered to be anything over 38°C in both adults (NHS, 2023) and children (NHS, 2020).

    If you suspect that you are suffering from a medical condition such as a fever, you should contact your GP, doctor or healthcare provider for medical advice as soon as possible.

    Medically Reviewed by:
    Dr. Alexis Missick MBChB. MRCGP
    GMC reference no: 7151419
    LinkedIn
    Website

    Sources

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    Blog author

    Scott Weaver

    Scott is an experienced and professional content writer who works exclusively for UK Meds.

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