What Are the Differences Between COVID-19 & A Cold?

What Are the Differences Between COVID-19 & A Cold? Gone are the days when a cough was simply just a cough—now, it’s especially important to consider what exactly is behind that tickle in your throat. While the common cold is typically to blame for routine annoyances such as coughing, throat soreness and congestion, these symptoms can also be indicative of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Let’s take a closer look at these two illnesses and how you may be able to tell them apart.

The Common Cold

Living up to its name, the common cold affects virtually everyone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says adults get an average of two to three colds every year, with children having even more. Colds can be caused by a variety of respiratory viruses, but typically result from rhinoviruses that can spread through touch or the air.

Symptoms of the common cold can include:

  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue

Colds typically last for seven to 10 days, but may remain longer or cause potentially serious symptoms in those with weakened immune systems or asthma. It’s important to speak with a medical professional if symptoms persist for more than 10 days or become severe in nature.


COVID-19 is a relatively new respiratory disease that researchers are learning more about every day. There is still much to understand about the novel coronavirus and how it affects the human body. Currently, the CDC lists the most common COVID-19 symptoms as:

  • Fever or chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Muscle or body aches
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Coronavirus can spread through respiratory droplets that are produced while speaking, sneezing or coughing. Most people with COVID-19 recover within two weeks, although some long-term effects like fatigue, shortness of breath and joint pain may occur.

The Bottom Line?

Here’s what’s important to remember—only a medical professional with testing capabilities can determine if your symptoms are related to COVID-19 or a cold. These illnesses can affect people in different ways, and there’s no reliable way of telling these conditions apart without testing. If you are experiencing any of the above-listed symptoms, contact a medical provider such as Tufts Medical Center Community Care for telehealth or coronavirus testing services.

In the meantime, though, there are a few key distinctions between COVID-19 and colds that can provide you with some insight as you wait for an appointment.

The common cold is more likely to blame for your symptoms if they:

  • Do not include a fever
  • Do not include diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Include sneezing

Conversely, you may have COVID-19 if your symptoms:

  • Include a fever
  • Include shortness of breath
  • Include a dry, hacking cough rather than a wet cough
  • Do not include sneezing

We’re Here to Help

Contact Tufts Medical Center Community Care today to schedule a telemedicine appointment, during which you can consult with our clinicians—including infectious disease doctors—from the safety of home and arrange a COVID-19 testing appointment, if necessary. Our multispecialty medical group proudly serves families throughout north suburban Boston and accepts most health insurance plans. We look forward to helping you feel your best! In the event that you experience difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately.

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