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Is it just a cold or the flu?

Plus, how to tell if it's symptoms of COVID

This article was last updated on Oct. 7, 2020. 

You're coughing, your nose is running and you have a sore throat. It's obvious you're coming down with something, but what is it? Is it the flu or just the common cold? And, now with the COVID-19 pandemic, you're probably also wondering if you've somehow caught the coronavirus. 

Determine what’s making you feel sick

While symptoms of a cold, the flu and COVID-19 can be similar, it's important to know the difference so you can understand your treatment options.

Cold vs. flu symptoms

Use this chart from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) External Site the next time you have cold and flu symptoms.

Signs and symptoms Influenza Cold
Symptom onset Abrupt Gradual
Fever Common Rare
ChillsFairly commonUncommon
Fatigue, weaknessCommonSometimes
Stuffy noseSometimesCommon
Sore throatSometimesCommon
Chest discomfort, coughCommonMild to moderate

With COVID-19, it's difficult to tell the difference

When it comes to symptoms of COVID-19, doctors say it's difficult to tell the difference External Site between the coronavirus and a cold or the flu. That's because the symptoms of COVID can vary widely — from no symptoms at all to deadly pneumonia and organ failure. 

While many of the symptoms of COVID and the flu are similar, they are caused by different viruses. According to the CDC, COVID-19 seems to spread more easily External Site than the flu and cause more serious illness in some people. It may also take longer for people infected with the coronavirus to show symptoms, increasing the risk of spreading it to others. Plus, there's currently no vaccine for COVID-19. 

Most people who experience symptoms of COVID-19, like fever or cough, can recover at home. Just stay away from other people as much as possible, monitor your symptoms, and stay in touch with your personal doctor — especially if you believe you've been exposed to the coronavirus. If this is the case, you may need a COVID test

If you have the cold or flu, what do you do?

Here are some tried and true ways to recover from a cold or the flu.

  1. Get lots of rest

    Stay home from work and stay as isolated as possible. Cozy up with your favorite blanket, your family pet, a good show on Netflix and try to catch some ZZZs!

  2. Contact your doctor if things get worse

    Whether you've come down with the cold or flu, contact your personal doctor's office if your symptoms start to worsen. And, while you’re out — get some liquids and some hot, comforting chicken noodle soup.

  3. Once you feel better, get back to your normal routine

    Once your temperature is back to normal for at least 24 hours and you're feeling better, getting back to your normal routine can make you feel a little more like yourself. Just be sure that your fever is gone naturally. Don’t rely on over-the-counter medicines to lower it, unless recommended by your personal doctor.

Don't forget to get your flu shot

The CDC recommends that everyone six months of age and older get the flu vaccine every year. Most preventive vaccines are covered at 100 percent by your Wellmark health insurance plan. Just be sure to check your benefits before getting a vaccine by logging in to myWellmark® Opens New Window, and use an in-network provider.

Check out our "Get a clue about the flu" series

Need more information about colds and flu, as well as how to avoid them? Take a look at these articles: