Cold, flu, or COVID? EASY ways to spot the difference

Does developing a sniffle, sneeze, or cough practically cause you to panic these days?

If so, you’re not alone. Many of us feel the same way.

Gone are the “good old days” when you only had to worry if you were coming down with a cold or the flu. And, let’s be honest, we didn’t fret much about either back then.

In fact, before COVID arrived, you may have even gone to work or out shopping when you felt a bit under the weather!

Now we can’t risk it. Before we step out the door, we need to know whether those sniffles will develop into a case of full-blown COVID-19.

The trouble is the symptoms tend to overlap, making it difficult to tell them apart (even for experts). But there are some tell-tale signs that are more common to each type of infection.

You just need to know what to look for.

Flu (influenza):

The flu tends to come on fast and intense, leaving you exhausted. But influenza also typically retreats fairly quickly.

Muscle aches and elevated temperatures are common. And appetite is often suppressed (sometimes due to nausea).

You’re most likely to spread the flu within five to seven days from when you first start feeling bad. Lingering symptoms can include feeling tired or a persistent cough in the days following recovery.

Common cold:

On the other hand, colds typically start with a runny or stuffy nose and perhaps a scratchy sore throat. It’s common to feel a cold creeping up on you for days before you get hit with a full-blown illness.

Fevers are uncommon with a cold. If you happen to run one, it’s almost always very mild.  You’re the most contagious during the first three days of getting a cold (during that sore throat phase).

You’re more likely to be in the cold camp if you’re coughing, sneezing, or have a sore throat. But a headache is rare with a cold but more common with flu or COVID.


With COVID, symptoms tend to develop a bit more gradually. The infection often starts with a headache or diarrhea.

Progressing to high fevers, chills, muscle aches, and intense fatigue is common with COVID. Plus, if you lose the ability to smell without a stuffy nose, you almost certainly have the coronavirus.

Most folks with COVID-19 are no longer contagious five days after they first have symptoms AND have been fever-free for at least three days.

Here’s a chart to help you visualize some of the most common symptoms better:

Is it a Cold or Flu or COVID?
Questions Flu Cold COVID-19
How fast was onset? Sudden Gradual Gradual
How tired do you feel? Severe Mild Severe
Fever Yes Rare Yes
Appetite Decreased Normal Normal
Muscle aches Yes Rare Yes
Do you have the chills? Yes Rare Yes
Headache Yes Rare Yes
Loss of Smell Rare Rare Sometimes
Diarrhea Rare Rare Sometimes


As with any illness, prevention is still your best strategy. Be sure to eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep. All of these will help support a healthy immune system.

Remember, the top two prevention tools you have are to wash your hands frequently and to wear your mask whenever you’re in a crowd.

And before I go today, I want to say a sincere thank you to all of our veterans. Your service and sacrifices help to make us safer and protect our precious way of life.

P.S. A strong immune system is a must in fall and winter. THIS potent nutrient can build a powerful BARRIER against whatever health threats life throws your way. And I’ve got a list of seven delicious foods that will give you plenty of it right here.


Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19​

Dr. Scott Olson, ND

Written By Dr. Scott Olson, ND

Nearly 25 years ago, failed mainstream medical treatments left Dr. Olson in constant pain – and his health in ruins. And that’s when he did something REVOLUTIONARY. He began his career in medicine – and dedicated his life to uncovering the true, underlying causes of disease.
Through his innovative medical practices in Tennessee and Colorado, Dr. Olson has helped cure countless seniors from across America of arthritis… heart disease… diabetes… and even cancer. All without risky prescription drugs or painful surgeries.

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