Lively or cool? How to distinguish between symptoms

In the pre-pandemic days, if you had a sniffle and headache, you can remove it as a normal cold and carry on as usual, even if you feel a little rough around the edges. But during cold and flu season, how can you be sure it’s a cold and not Covid?

Bottom line is – you can’t. Because while the typical symptoms of a cold are a headache, sore throat, and runny nose, those symptoms are now some of the main signs of a cold. Covid too.

However, the common cold is caused by a virus other than Covid-19. Most coronaviruses, such as the common cold, cause mild infections of the upper respiratory tract and produce relatively minor symptoms such as nasal congestion, headaches, and sore throats.

People with Covid have respiratory symptoms that can cause cough, shortness of breath, shortness of breath, and fever. The infection can also cause pneumonia, kidney failure and, in the most severe cases, death.

In most people, symptoms of the common cold typically peak within the first two to three days of infection, while the effects of Covid appear two to 14 days after exposure.

Christina Marriott, CEO of Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) said: “There is increasing evidence that people who have received two doses of the vaccine often have less severe symptoms, such as headache, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and loss of appetite. smell.

“It’s important for people who are fully immunized to stay alert for cold-like symptoms and get tested if they’re living or working around people at higher risk.”

Professor Irene Petersen, professor of epidemiology and health informatics at University of London (UCL), adds: “Rinse and headache are symptoms of many infections, but can also be the first – and only – symptom of Covid. Therefore, if you have these symptoms, I recommend using a lateral flow test (LFT) for a few days.

“The first few LFT tests may be negative, but if you have Covid, the tests can become positive within a few days. Also, if you know other people around you have Covid, your chances of having a runny nose and/or headache are also much higher. “

Although the main symptoms of Covid that the government hits us are high temperature, new, constant cough and loss or change of smell or taste, the Delta variant, which is the dominant Covid strain in the UK, has different symptoms, either instead of, or the same as the main symptoms.

The Zoe Covid Symptom Study (, funded by the UK government, identified the top symptoms associated with Covid and says they are slightly different depending on whether you have been vaccinated or not.


Headache is one of the lesser-known signs, but one of the earliest and more common than classic symptoms such as cough, fever and loss of smell, according to ZOE research. Research shows that Covid headaches tend to be moderate to severe pain, which can be ‘pulsating’, ‘pressing’ or ‘stabbing’, occurring on both sides of the head rather than in one area, which can last for more than three days and tends to be resistant to conventional pain relievers.


Last winter, ZOE research found that a runny nose was the second most commonly reported symptom after headaches, with nearly 60 percent of those who tested positive for Covid experiencing a loss of smell. They also reported that they had a runny nose.

But for now, the data indicates that the prevalence of the disease is the most important factor. Therefore, when the rate of Covid is high, the possibility of a runny nose caused by Covid is also high. But the study highlights that when Covid rates are low, a runny nose is less likely to be Covid and more likely to be caused by a cold or even allergies. , it is difficult to call it a definitive symptom because it is so common, especially during winter.


The ZOE study found that sneezing more than usual could be a sign of Covid disease in vaccinated people, although it emphasized that sneezing was more likely to be a sign of a cold or allergies. It said that although many people with Covid can sneeze, “it is not an exact symptom because sneezing is very common”.

Sore throat

Many people with Covid have reported on the ZOE Study app that they have a sore throat that resembles the one you get with a cold or laryngitis. Sore throats associated with tubal occlusion tend to be mild and last no more than five days, and a very painful sore throat that lasts longer can be another illness. If it persists, you should contact your GP. Although it can be a Covid symptom, most people with a sore throat probably just have a cold. According to ZOE data, nearly half of people who become ill with Covid-19 report a sore throat, although this is more common in adults between the ages of 18-65 than in the elderly or those under the age of 18.

Loss of sense of smell

Loss of sense of smell continues to be the strongest indicator of a Covid-19 infection, regardless of a person’s age, sex or severity of illness. While people with Covid may not lose their sense of smell completely, it can change, so you may not be able to smell things with strong aromas and your taste may be affected, too. Food may taste different or appear tasteless.

Persistent cough

A persistent cough is widely agreed to be one of the three main symptoms of Covid-19, but according to ZOE research, only about 4 in 10 people get sick from the virus. In this context, “persistent” means coughing several times a day, “for half a day or more”. A Covid cough is usually a dry cough, compared to a chesty cough with phlegm or mucus and can be a sign of a bacterial infection. A persistent cough tends to appear a few days after the onset of the illness and usually lasts for about 4 or 5 days.

Testing is very important

If you get only one dose of the vaccine, the ZOE study found that the top symptoms were similar to those seen in people who got two shots, but coughing was also common. And for those who weren’t vaccinated, the symptoms were similar, along with fever and cough. If you have any symptoms, you should isolate yourself at home and get a Covid PCR test as soon as possible.

Alex Richter, professor of clinical immunology at the University of Birmingham, who has developed a test to detect Covid antibodies in people with mild symptoms, said: “It is not possible to tell the difference between the two. colds and COVID-19 clinically. They appear to be so similar that only a PCR test can distinguish between the two. Lateral flow testing can help with screening, but if someone has symptoms, they should get tested with a PCR swab.”

And Alan McNally, professor of microbial evolutionary genomics at the University of Birmingham and head of infectious diseases at the Milton Keynes Lighthouse Lab – the UK Government’s flagship Covid testing facility – adds: “If you have any symptoms of a respiratory infection, you should stay home to prevent transmission and get tested. Attempting to self-diagnose is a surefire way to push the Covid case rate up again. “ Lively or cool? How to distinguish between symptoms

Tom Vazquez

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