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The Common Cold vs. COVID: A Doctor Explains How to Tell the Difference

For all the great parts of fall — cozy coats, gorgeous weather, anything pumpkin flavored — there are some not-so-wonderful things that come standard with fall. Namely the cold season. Ugh. But while we’ve never really liked colds, since the advent of COVID-19, we’ve been especially on edge about that familiar feeling. Is our runny nose the product of a cold or COVID? What about that nagging cough? That’s why we checked in with Dr. Phillip Kadaj, MD, FACP, internist at JustAnswer, a site that connects users with experts, for his take on the difference between the common cold and COVID. Here’s what you need to know as we transition from summer to the cold season.

Meet the expert

dr. Phillip Kadaj, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician at JustAnswer, a site that connects users with various medical experts.

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How are the symptoms of COVID and the common cold different?

dr. Kadaj tells us there are a few ways to differentiate between the common cold and COVID-19. “Symptoms of the common cold are similar to allergy-like symptoms and should generally be quite mild,” he notes, adding that these can include a runny nose, congestion, sore throat, mild cough, and fatigue. Yet these cold symptoms can overlap with COVID-19. The difference is in the severity of the symptoms. “For example, a more prominent cough, moderate to severe fatigue, headache, and moderate to severe congestion [could be signs of COVID].” He also notes that a fever is a hallmark symptom of COVID-19 that you wouldn’t normally see with a cold.

If we have these symptoms, when should we worry it’s more than a cold?

“In addition to fever, COVID-19 is also often manifested by symptoms such as shortness of breath, severe fatigue, muscle aches/pain, nausea and diarrhea,” explains Dr. Kaday out. “It can also cause loss of taste and smell much more often.” He insists that if you have a high fever (above 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit) and shortness of breath, you should get tested for COVID and immediately quarantine yourself. .

Even if you’re sure it’s just a cold, should you still get tested?

Let’s say you’re pretty sure your symptoms are mild enough that it’s just a cold. dr. Kadaj stresses that it’s just not possible to say for sure it’s “just a cold” without testing, especially in children. “Children will often have very mild symptoms with COVID-19,” he explains. Consider testing in these scenarios, he tells us:

One final piece of advice that Dr. Kadaj gives us is to just listen to your body. “We have all had a cold many times in our lives. If you are sick and it feels different, be careful and get tested. Or if you’re just not sure, always be careful and get tested.” He adds that you will never regret taking extra care by getting tested to slow the spread of the pandemic and keep yourself and others safe.

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