With winter just around the corner and fears of a second wave of coronavirus, many people are likely to be worried about falling ill in the coming months.
But with every little sniffle and runny nose being suspect, it could become pretty hard to know whether you actually have Covid-19 or just a normal cough and cold – or even the flu.
Metro.co.uk consulted some medical experts to get some advice on how to differentiate between them.
Ben Littlewood-Hilson, chief medical officer at Doctorlink, said: ‘It’s interesting because it’s difficult to tell if what you’ve got are the symptoms of a cold, the flu or Covid-19.
‘There’s going to be a lot of nervousness, particularly because schools are reopening and children will start getting sniffles, and humans have never seen Covid-19 before.
‘It’s important to remember that a common cold is a coronavirus – just not Covid-19. Other strains of coronavirus are actually quite common, but they have milder symptoms.
‘Elderly people, and people of all ages with underlying health conditions, need to really look after themselves in this period.’
Doctorlink provided the helpful symptom checker above which can offer a rough idea of what illness you have by a process of elimination.
Dr Ravi Tomar, a GP at the Portland Medical Practice in Croydon, offered some more advice on how to differentiate between the conditions.
The symptoms of Covid-19
‘Our understanding of Covid-19 is progressing quickly and health professionals around the world have come up with a symptom picture that you might expect to see in adults,’ said Dr Tomar.
‘The most common symptoms are those of a fever, dry cough and fatigue, with symptoms such as a loss in sense of taste/smell, headache and breathing issues also occurring frequently.
‘In children it has recently come to light that there is potential for bowel symptoms such as diarrhoea to also occur.’
The symptoms of a cold or cough
‘The common cold has always presented the same way during each yearly cycle,’ Dr Tomar explained.
‘The majority of this illness affects the upper airways due to mucus. As such the symptoms are those of a wet cough, blocked nose, sneezing and sore throat.
‘It is less common to have body wide symptoms with a cold such as fatigue or body ache.’
The symptoms of the flu
‘Flu remains the dangerous illness it has always been,’ said Dr Tomar.
‘While many recover from it within a few weeks, those susceptible such as the elderly or those with chronic medical conditions still have a high mortality rate.
‘This is highlighted by the redoubled efforts my health bodies globally to vaccinate against it in this coming post-Covid winter.
‘The symptoms generally affect the whole body rather than just one system. You would expect to see body aches, fatigue, headache in addition to the usual respiratory symptoms such as a cough or sore throat.’
Dr Littlewood-Hilson added people eligible for the flu vaccination should make it a priority to get one this year.
The similarities and differences
Dr Littlewood-Hilson said there is a ‘subtlety’ in differences between coronavirus, a cold and the flu.
The key sign of a common cold or cough is the presence of mucus – a Covid-19 cough is much more dry. He said a ‘runny nose’ is a big indicator you have just a cold.
The flu tends to affect the entire body with less specific symptoms than Covid-19.
Dr Tomar added: ‘The challenge with these upper respiratory infections is that that can all present with symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, aches and pain.
‘However the predominating symptoms can help to differentiate between each. With a common cold less of the body is affected with symptoms focused on the mouth and nose.
‘With the flu – you would expect the body as a whole to mainly be affected. With Covid, the persistent fever, dry cough and specific features like the loss in taste or smell can suggest this may be the cause.’
Both doctors stressed that if people really aren’t sure whether they have a cold, the flu or coronavirus, they should seek medical advice.
They can do this by calling 111 or using a digital system assessment tool like Doctorlink which provides online triage and video consultations.
‘Fortunately management of these three conditions is largely the same in the initial stages as they are all viral infections,’ Dr Tomar added.
‘Self-isolate, use over the counter medications from the local pharmacy to help with the symptoms, rest and hydrate.’
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