Living with Chronic Pain

Is It COVID-19, the Flu, or a Cold?


COVID-19, influenza, and the common cold are all respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. While respiratory illnesses often share similarities, they also differ in many regards, including how long it takes for symptoms to develop after exposure and how rapidly symptoms progress.


Since COVID-19, the flu, and the common cold all affect the respiratory tract, common symptoms include sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and cough. However, other symptoms vary among the three illnesses.

COVID-19 symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Fever (usually high)
  • Moderate-to-severe cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea, nausea or vomiting

Some individuals with COVID-19 may not have any symptoms; however, even if an individual is asymptomatic, they can still spread the virus to others.

Influenza (flu) symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Mild-to-high fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue

Cold symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Mild cough (due to postnasal drip)

Symptom appearance and progression

Symptoms of a cold typically appear 1 to 7 days after exposure to the virus. Common cold symptoms typically develop gradually; whereas, symptoms of the flu tend to develop suddenly. Flu symptoms appear approximately 1 to 4 days after exposure. COVID-19 symptoms may not appear until 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus; however, most people experience symptoms within five days. Symptoms can develop gradually and worsen over 5 to 7 days. Symptoms may also come and go, lasting for days or weeks.

Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should consult a medical professional and follow health care recommendations and self-quarantine guidelines.

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