COVID-19, flu, strep or common cold? How to tell the difference
September 9, 2021
Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP
With cold and flu season approaching during an ongoing pandemic, you might be anxious about what will happen if someone in your family gets sick. At the first sign of sniffles, you’re likely to wonder: “Do I have COVID-19? Or could it just be a common cold? Maybe the flu? And what do I do about it?”
It’s not always easy to tell, but with First Stop Health Telemedicine from your employer, you can get diagnosis and treatment via phone or video 24/7. Our doctors call back in 3 minutes (on average) to make sense of your symptoms and help you feel better, faster.
In the meantime, here’s what you should know about telling apart COVID-19, the flu, strep and common cold.
Understanding the cause of your upper respiratory symptoms can be a challenge. Not all patients with the same illness experience the same symptoms, and there’s also a good deal of overlap:
Cold symptoms include stuffy nose, congestion and sneezing.
Strep throat symptoms include white spots on your tonsils, swollen lymph nodes in your neck, fever, and lack of cough.
Flu symptoms include fever, chills, body aches, sore throat and headache.
COVID-19 shares a lot of symptoms with the flu, but loss of smell and taste are specific to COVID-19.
No matter who you are, diagnosis is important because it determines your treatment plan. But accurate and timely diagnosis is even more important for the elderly and very young, who are generally at a much higher risk of life-threatening complications.
Telemedicine doctors diagnose your illness based on your symptoms and medical history. COVID-19 and the flu are both epidemic in nature, which makes it reasonable for doctors to diagnose and treat patients who: