Got a cough or fever with body aches? Knowing if you’ve got influenza or the common cold – or even COVID – can be tricky. With so many overlapping flu and cold symptoms, it’s often hard to know what illness you’ve actually got. Here, DR CHARU NARAYANN, a UK-trained GP at International Medical Clinic (IMC) Katong, shares her views on cold vs flu symptoms, signs of COVID and when to see a doctor.
What are the most common cold symptoms?
A simple cold generally produces milder symptoms than other viruses. Common cold symptoms usually include:
- a runny or stuffy nose;
- watery eyes;
- a mild cough;
- sore throat;
- headaches (rarely); and
- body aches and pains
Of course, these cold symptoms can certainly create concern for many of us during the current pandemic. I would recommend boosting your immune system with a healthy diet that’s rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and adequate vitamin D levels, and getting the right amount of sleep.
While fluids and over-the-counter medication can help with common cold symptoms, an individual’s innate immunity works to resolve the symptoms over seven to 10 days. There is no long-lasting immunity after a cold and re-infection can occur.
What are the most common flu symptoms?
The flu is caused by the influenza virus. Common flu symptoms include:
- fever (usually high) and/or chills;
- a cough (usually a dry cough);
- body aches and pains;
- a runny or stuffy nose and sore throat; and
- vomiting and diarrhoea – especially in children.
Cold vs flu symptoms – what are the main differences?
Like the common cold, the flu affects the nose, throat and respiratory system. However, the flu comes on quite suddenly and can last from five to seven days, whereas the onset of cold symptoms occurs more gradually.
What should I do if I’ve got flu symptoms?
There is no active treatment required for influenza. If you’re experiencing flu symptoms, stay at home and manage your fever with paracetamol or ibuprofen. It’s important to get adequate rest and fluids.
There is no need to take antibiotics, as influenza is is a viral illness. Antivirals are available, but are rarely needed.
If the illness appears to be lasting longer than a week and symptoms like fever and cough get worse after getting better, this may signal a bacterial infection setting in, and it is best to see a doctor.
What are common symptoms of COVID-19?
The coronavirus family has been known to cause common colds for many years. However, the particular strain that caused the pandemic – novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV2 – was not previously known to occur in humans.
The virus can vary from being a mild or asymptomatic illness in young, healthy people or children, but a serious illness in certain groups of people. The elderly, those with heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, and others with compromised immunity, appear to be at a higher risk.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can start two days after infection and can last up to two weeks. This is often followed by long-standing fatigue.
Common COVID symptoms include:
- fever and/or chills;
- cough (usually a dry cough);
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing;
- body aches and pains;
- sore throat; and
- loss of taste and smell.
Vomiting and diarrhoea are also symptoms, although they are more rare. And, in some cases, unusual, sudden cardiac events and clots in deep veins have occurred due to the inflammation produced in the circulatory system. Additionally, blisters, rashes and wheals have been reported recently with a small number of COVID infections.
How can I tell the difference between influenza and COVID?
Both illnesses can cause a cough, body aches and pains, and other similar symptoms. However, there are COVID-19 symptoms that are not features of influenza. These include a loss or change in taste and smell, skin reactions and difficulty breathing.
Influenza doesn’t usually require a test, although a swab may be available in some clinics. However, a co-infection with COVID-19 is possible. In this case, a nasal or throat swab can be performed to differentiate between the two.
What should I do if I’ve got symptoms of COVID?
It’s important that people report symptoms as soon as they occur. Early testing means that infected people can be isolated, contacts can be traced quickly and any further disease spread curtailed.
While there is currently no cure for COVID, some drugs have been used to reduce the severity and duration of illness in those who are hospitalised.
What preventative steps can I take to avoid getting a cold, influenza or COVID?
With the common cold, influenza and COVID, prevention is paramount. It’s important to practice hand hygiene and protect yourself from air droplets that are released by infected people, even before they develop symptoms.
At this time of uncertainty with influenza viruses and COVID-19 circulating, using a mask, avoiding the sharing of cups and plates, and wiping down surfaces that could harbour these viruses are routine recommended measures.
It’s also important to practice physical distancing. This not only helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 but also any other sickness going around.
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