Understanding the differences of Cold, Flu, and COVID-19

You’ve got a sore throat, your body is aching, and now you feel feverish. Is this a cold, covid, or the flu? All three are contagious respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms. And while colds are generally mild and do not result in serious health problems, coronavirus and influenza can lead to serious, even life-threatening, complications. So how do you know what’s what?

The only way to truly know if you’re suffering from a cold, the flu or COVID-19 is to be tested. Get tested for flu and COVID- 19 today at Pulse-MD Urgent Care to ensure a proper diagnosis and the right treatment plan. Find the location nearest you.

The Common Cold

Over 200 viruses can lead to a cold, but the rhinovirus is the most common culprit. Cold symptoms are generally mild, last from 7-10 days, and include:

  • Sore Throat
  • Sneezing
  • Runny or Stuffy Nose
  • Body Aches
  • Headache
  • Watery eyes

You can catch a cold at any time of the year and there is no cure. The best medicine is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Cold infections are spread through the air and close personal contact. You can reduce your risk by washing your hands often, not touching your face, disinfecting surfaces, and staying away from people who are sick. Sound familiar? These are the same hygiene measures for preventing COVID-19.


The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that is caused by influenza viruses. It occurs seasonally (October through May). Influenza spreads through droplets in the air when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. Flu symptoms have a more sudden onset, can be mild to severe, and include:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Children and some adults may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.

Young children, older adults (65+), pregnant women, and people with certain chronic illnesses are at a higher risk of developing serious complications. The best way to protect yourself, and those more vulnerable, from the flu is to get an annual flu shot.

If you come down with the flu, Pulse-MD providers can prescribe an antiviral medication proven to lessen the severity and duration of flu illness. When taken promptly, antivirals can reduce the time you are sick by 1-2 days, ease symptoms, and prevent serious complications, such as pneumonia. Get a test at the first sign of symptoms for better outcomes.


COVID-19 is a new virus strain that has only spread in people since December 2019. It belongs to the same family of virus as the common cold, SARS and MERS. However, it seems to be more contagious, and more deadly, than these related coronaviruses. Like cold and flu, COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person, typically through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, or talking.

Infected people have reported a wide range of symptoms – from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms can appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus, and include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Get a COVID-19 test if you are exhibiting symptoms, or if you’ve been around someone who tested positive.

To treat a mild case of COVID-19, you can rest at home, drink plenty of fluids, and self-isolate. Your healthcare provider may recommend an over-the-counter medication for fever.

More severe cases require hospitalization. Hospital care may include breathing support, such as a ventilator or other treatments. If you experience shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately or go to an emergency department.