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How Do I Know if I Have COVID-19 or Just a Cold?

How Do I Know if I Have COVID-19 or Just a Cold?

Jun 5, 2020

Waking up with a scratchy throat or a runny nose can strike a bit of fear into nearly anybody. When this happens, most people wonder throughout the day if they have a common cold, or have somehow managed to get the flu. But now, there’s a third option, one that has no vaccine or fully tested treatment — COVID-19.

“The worst case scenario, for most people, used to be that you had the flu and not a cold,” said Evelyn Balogun, M.D., medical director, Inspira Urgent Care. “And while the flu is still a very serious virus, it doesn’t scare people nearly as much as COVID-19 does.”

So, how do you know if you’ve got the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Here are the symptoms you need to look for to distinguish these three viruses from one another.


A cold is an upper respiratory infection, affecting an individual’s nose, throat and sinuses, among other body parts. A common cold can be caused by over 200 different viruses, and a cold is usually very contagious.

“A typical cold lasts somewhere in the range of 7-10 days,” said Dr. Balogun. “A doctor will typically diagnose a cold through clinical observation. They’ll look for typical cold symptoms, which consist of body aches, sore throat, watery eyes and a runny nose.”


COVID-19 is still a relatively new virus, which means symptoms and other identifying factors are still being researched and evaluated on a frequent basis.

“We’ve only had a handful of months to really work with the virus in a clinical setting,” said Balogun. “So, the knowledge we do have about it is new and constantly evolving.”

Currently, there are a few symptoms that doctors believe are strongly correlated with the onset of COVID-19. Among these factors are a high fever, a dry and heavy cough and either shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, depending on the severity of the virus.

Other key symptoms include severe fatigue and a loss of appetite. If you have one or more of these symptoms, you should contact your primary care provider or your local health department for more information, including whether or not you should get tested. As more testing options become available, the guidelines for who should and should not be tested are changing.


At this time, the best way to differentiate COVID-19 from the flu is by symptoms. Symptoms that are common with the flu, but aren’t known to present in coronavirus patients, include headaches and a sore throat.

“You should also pay attention to how fast your symptoms appear,” said Dr. Balogun. “If you’re healthy one day and can’t get out of bed the next, you most likely have the flu. COVID-19 symptoms come about much more slowly than flu symptoms do.”

If you begin to experience any symptoms associated with COVID-19, the best thing you can do for both you and your family is to call your primary care doctor as soon as possible. Call before you go in person to ensure your doctor’s office or urgent care site is open and let your doctor or urgent care know your symptoms. In person and online visits are available with Inspira primary care doctors and Urgent Care sites. If you have trouble breathing and feel your symptoms are life threatening call 911.

“The expanded use of virtual visits has allowed us to reduce both patient and physician exposures while still providing quality care to our communities,” said Dr. Balogun. “Patients can connect with an Inspira urgent care provider for a quick and timely same-day telehealth visit using a smartphone or personal computer.”

Get Care Now at Inspira Urgent Care

Find your closest location and check-in online using our website or open the My Inspira app and tap “Find Care Now.“ Choose your preferred Urgent Care location and click to check-in either “On-Site” or “Virtual.” Fill in your details and click “OK” to complete your check-in. If you’ve selected the virtual option, you will then receive an email confirmation that includes a link to initiate your visit.

To receive information about Inspira’s COVID-19 state of readiness and up-to-date information on services provided at our 150+ access points, call our hotline at 1-800-772-2848, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays or visit our COVID-19 resource page.

Topics: COVID-19