How do I Know if I have a Cold, the Flu or COVID-19?

Common cold tends to be milder with symptoms like stuffy nose and sore throat. Loss of smell is Covid-19 specific symptom. Doctors also do not rule out a mix of both cough, fever, tiredness and muscle aches as common to both the flu and COVID-19. So how exactly do you know if you have a common cold or flu or Covid-19?

Updated: January 7, 2022 8:05 PM IST

By News Desk | Edited by Himanshu Shekhar

Cold flu common cold
Symptoms of common cold, flu or Covid-19 overlapping, it gets difficult to diagnose. But some simple checks and test can easily provide the answer.

Experts say testing is the best way to determine what you have since symptoms of the illnesses can overlap. The viruses that cause colds, the flu and COVID-19 are spread the same way — through droplets from the nose and mouth of infected people. And they can all be spread before a person realizes they’re infected.

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The time varies for when someone with any of the illnesses will start feeling sick. Some people infected with the coronavirus don’t experience any symptoms, but it’s still possible for them to spread it.

How to differentiate Common Cold vs Flu vs Covid-19?

Cough, fever, tiredness and muscle aches are common to both the flu and COVID-19, says Kristen Coleman, an assistant research professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. Symptoms specific to COVID-19 include the loss of taste or smell.

Common colds, meanwhile, tend to be milder with symptoms including a stuffy nose and sore throat. Fevers are more common with the flu.


Despite some false portrayals online, the viruses have not merged to create a new illness. But it’s possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which some are calling “flurona.”

“A co-infection of any kind can be severe or worsen your symptoms altogether,” says Coleman. “If influenza cases continue to rise, we can expect to see more of these types of viral co-infections in the coming weeks or months.”


With many similar symptoms caused by the three virus types, testing remains the best option to determine which one you may have. At-home tests for flu aren’t as widely available as those for COVID-19, but some pharmacies offer testing for both viruses at the same time, Coleman notes. This can help doctors prescribe the right treatment.

Laboratories might also be able to screen samples for various respiratory viruses, including common cold viruses. But most do not have the capacity to routinely do this, especially during a COVID-19 surge, Coleman says.

Getting vaccinated helps reduce the spread of the viruses. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is safe to get a flu and COVID-19 shot or booster at the same time.

Precautions to minimise your risk of COVID-19/Cold/Flu

  • Avoid Close Contact, Maintain 6 Feet Distance in household or public
  • Wear a mask, encourage kids to wear mask as well
  • Wash your hands frequently, show kids how to properly wash
  • Avoid crowds
  • Avoid touching your nose and eyes and mouth
  • Mayo Clinic recommends ‘cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, electronics and counters, daily’

Associated Press Inputs

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Published Date: January 7, 2022 7:59 PM IST

Updated Date: January 7, 2022 8:05 PM IST