How Do I Know If I Have COVID-19 or Just a Cold?

Cold vs. COVID-19

The common cold and coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) are both contagious respiratory infections that can produce similar symptoms. Often caused by a rhinovirus, the common cold is a relatively mild upper respiratory illness that usually improves without treatment. On the other hand, COVID-19 is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), a brand-new virus that is potentially much more serious.

To ensure proper treatment, it is important to know whether you have a cold or COVID-19. Currently, the only way to find out for sure is to see a physician who can provide appropriate testing, such as a nasopharyngeal swab, if necessary.

The Similarities

The common cold and COVID-19 are similar in that both viral infections:

  • Mainly spread when virus-containing respiratory droplets enter the air after an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and the droplets are then inhaled by an uninfected person
  • Also spread when an uninfected person touches a surface contaminated with virus-containing respiratory droplets, then touches his or her face
  • Can cause coughing, fever, body aches, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Do not respond to antibiotic treatment, which is only effective against bacterial infections
  • Can be prevented with frequent handwashing and social distancing

The Differences

Unlike the common cold, COVID-19:

  • Can cause a sudden loss of taste or smell
  • Can cause symptoms that range in severity from mild to critical (or no symptoms at all)
  • Can cause serious complications, such as pneumonia and long-term damage to organs throughout the body, including the lungs, heart, brain, and kidneys
  • May require hospitalization and the use of a ventilator (in severe cases)

What To Do If You Have Symptoms

In general, a scratchy throat is often the first sign of a cold coming on, but losing your sense of smell or ability to taste is a distinctive sign of COVID-19. Beyond that, there are several crossover symptoms between the common cold and COVID-19, and therefore it can be challenging to make a conclusive diagnosis.

If you’re experiencing typical cold symptoms, you should rest at home and wear a cloth face mask if you must go out. If your illness lingers, you should talk with a health care provider who can assess your symptoms, suggest a treatment plan, and possibly test you for COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infected people are contagious from approximately two days before the onset of symptoms and up to 10 days afterward. Because it’s difficult to distinguish between cold symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms, it’s best to act with caution.

PhysicianOne Urgent Care continues to be available to meet your urgent care needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to our full range of non-emergency health care services, we’re pleased to offer COVID-19 testing at all locations. Contact us or stop by today to learn more. We are open every day with evening hours, and we do not require appointments. Whether you need common cold treatment or COVID-19 treatment, we are here for you.

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