Skip to main contentSkip to footer

Have you got a cold or Covid? A 23-point checklist to tell the difference

Dr Roger Henderson talks us through the distinctions

cold or covid
Bridie Wilkins
Senior Health & Fitness Writer
Share this:

Chances are you, or someone you know, has been struck by the dreaded cold by now. It seems that practically everyone is battling with it as (what was once a typical) cold and flu season hits, but there's a reason it feels so different.

SEE: Will there be another Covid Christmas lockdown? 7 ways to avoid it, and the best and worst case scenarios

SEE: How to get rid of a cold in 24 hours with these top expert tips

Dr Roger Henderson, GP and Olbas Expert, tells HELLO!: "Normally, cold and flu season is unremarkable, but lockdown has meant we have had much less exposure to these types of winter infections." As a result, our immune systems may have got a little slack, meaning we suffer more than we would have pre-pandemic.

WATCH: Dr Ellie Cannon shares her tips on staying healthy during winter

"As many of us have not had as much exposure to colds and flu infections as normal," Dr Roger adds, "There appears to be a spike in tougher, more aggressive forms of colds and flu-like viruses."

As if that's not enough to deal with, we've got the added stress of deciphering whether we've got a common cold, the so-called 'super cold', or Covid. So, how can you tell the difference? Dr Roger talks us through the most useful distinctions - run through them as a checklist.

RELATED: 14 natural remedies for hay fever sufferers

How to tell the difference between a cold and Covid

Signs you have a common cold

1. Your symptoms came on gradually

You're showing one or more of the following symptoms:

2. Runny nose

3. Sneezing

4. Sore throat

5. Cough

6. Mild fever

7. Tiredness

8. Symptoms will last two to four days and disappear from one to two weeks after becoming infected

READ MORE: You should do this every time you wash your hands

woman with flu© Photo: iStock

There has been a spike of cold and flu infections

Signs you have the 'super cold'

You're showing one or more of the following symptoms:

9. An extremely sore throat

10. Hacking cough

11. Headache

Signs you have flu

12. Your symptoms came on much quicker than the common cold – as quickly as within a few hours, and feel considerably worse

You're showing one or more of the following symptoms:

13. High temperature

14. Chills

15. Muscle pains

16. Fatigue

17. Blocked nose

18. Sore throat

19. Symptoms last for five to seven days

RELATED: 10 best supplements that will actually help boost your health

Signs you have Covid

20. There's considerable overlap between symptoms of Covid-19 with symptoms of the common cold, super cold and flu, but there's one that stands out according to Dr Roger: a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. "You may notice you can't smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal," Dr Roger explains. This isn’t a symptom of either the common or super cold, so could be an obvious way to tell the difference.

21. Sounds obvious, but getting tested for Covid via the NHS is quick and easy, and you'll know whether you have Covid straight off the bat. The NHS also advises that you stay at home if you're showing symptoms of covid – even if they're mild – until you know for sure you're not infected. You can request a kit via the NHS website.

Other symptoms include:

22. High temperature

23. A new, continuous cough (coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours)

How to treat a common cold, super cold or flu

Use medicine

Dr Roger recommends "painkillers, cough linctus, vaporisers and decongestant oils such as Olbas to relieve symptoms".

Stay hydrated

"Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, even if you have a poor appetite," Dr Roger says. "Stick to water, juices and squash, and don't keep your house too warm."

Have the flu jab

"If you're aged over 65 or suffering from a chronic problem such as diabetes or asthma, have the flu jab every year. It doesn't cause flu itself, but greatly increases protection for that year against the latest strain of flu," Dr Roger explains.


Dr Roger advises: "Rest as much as you can and do not exercise. Take regular paracetamol for chills and muscle pains and seek medical advice if you develop a cough with coloured sputum as you may need antibiotics for a bacterial chest infection (but remember these do not work on viral infections)."

Like this story? Sign up to our newsletter to get other stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.