Flu, Cold or COVID-19? Consider the Symptoms

woman with mask on

Updated July 13, 2022

If you’re not feeling well and wondering if you have COVID-19, take a moment to consider your symptoms.

COVID-19, influenza (flu) and the common cold are all contagious respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses.

Colds are normally less intense than flu. A runny or stuffy nose, a sore throat, sneezing and coughing are the most common symptoms of a cold, though these symptoms are comparatively less common in flu. Read more about the difference between cold and flu.

Because some symptoms of COVID-19 and flu are shared or similar, it can be difficult to tell the difference. Testing is the most reliable way to determine if you have COVID-19 or flu. Both viruses can also show no symptoms (asymptomatic) in sick people.

People infected with flu or COVID-19 may also experience these symptoms:

  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle pain or ache
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Diarrhea, though with flu this is more common in children than adults
  • Change in or loss of taste or smell, more common in COVID-19 infections

Click for a full list of flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms.

Flu infections typically begin to show symptoms between one and four days after infection. COVID-19 symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after infection.

What should you do if you're sick? 

If you develop symptoms consistent with a respiratory illness, please stay home. If you get sick and need to seek care, we have you covered.

If you are sick with contagious illnesses such as cold, pink eye or other non-COVID-19 ailments, our urgent care video visits are a great way to get care and avoid waiting rooms. You can access these visits by going to muhealthvideovisits.org.

If you think you might have COVID-19, you should be tested. Learn more about COVID-19 testing.

If your symptoms are severe, like discolored lips or skin, persistent chest pain or tightness, trouble breathing or confusion, you should go to the Emergency Department immediately.

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