Cold, flu or COVID-19? Pandora's Health

Is it a cold, flu or COVID-19?

Second spikes and coronavirus surges are occurring throughout Europe as we head towards cold and flu season. How can we tell cold and flu apart from COVID-19?

After a summer of actually being able to see my family and friends for the first time in 7 months and being able to enjoy a meal out… things have taken a turn, haven’t they?

As we see spikes throughout the UK and the rest of Europe, we know that we’re in for a tough autumn and winter. Colds and influenza will also be making their comeback, which will add to the general confusion and sense of foreboding if you start to feel under the weather.

With that in mind, let’s look at the key differences between cold, flu and COVID-19.

Common colds

Common colds are just that, they’re common. They are upper respiratory tract infections, which means they affect the nose and throat. This means that the most common symptoms are sneezing, a blocked nose and a sore throat.

If it’s really bad you may have a slight temperature increase, pressure around your ears and a muted sense of taste and smell.

Rhinoviruses are the most common form of cold causing viruses. Some other coronaviruses (not THAT coronavirus) and adenoviruses can also cause them.

The flu

Influenza is the proper term for this condition but let’s call it the flu for simplicity. I had it last year and even though it only lasted for a few days, believe when I say that it was not fun.

This is also an upper respiratory tract infection, but it can affect the lungs.

Symptoms appear very fast and the most common ones are fever/chills, tiredness, aches and pains, and a headache.

Most people recover with plenty of rest, but with the ongoing pandemic it’s important to book a vaccination. After my experience last year, I’ve got mine this weekend.


So, this is the big one. Here in the UK, the 3 main symptoms are fever, a dry cough (i.e. no phlegm) and a sudden loss of taste and smell.

No taste and smell are very different to the kind you experience with a cold, which is usually due to a blocked nose. With COVID-19, there’s interference with nerves and receptors.

A fever and a cough are also common with the flu, but believe me when I say this is not the flu. It’s a completely different virus, and we have no natural immunity against it.

Know the signs

There can be a lot of panic and confusion if you cough a couple of times or feel warm for a little while. To help avoid some confusion, I’ve made this infographic:

Symptom infographic – Pandora's Health
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