Is it a cold or COVID-19? Symptoms to look out for
The risk of catching COVID-19 sent many in search of tests at the first signs of a common cold over the past year, now as the nation gradually reopens there is an increased chance you will come into contact with someone carrying a summer cold. So how can you tell if it’s a case of the sniffles or something more?
Dr. LeRoy Essig, a pulmonary disease doctor at OhioHealth Physician Group in Columbus, broke down the origins of a summer cold a few key ways that it differentiates from COVID-19.
“A summer cold is the same as a winter cold,” he said, adding that while it’s more common in the winter rhinoviruses coronaviruses are still present in the summer so it’s possible to come down with one.
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Colds are also transmitted through droplets when someone coughs or sneezes, but it’s also possible to contract one through touching contaminated surfaces then touching your own ear, nose or mouth.
Symptoms are typically the same as a common winter cold include sore throat, cough, runny nose, sometimes fatigue, body aches or the occasional fever, several of which overlap with COVID-19. The symptoms of both colds COVID-19 run a similar course of about one-to-two weeks which could also make it difficult to differentiate between the two.
But there are several symptoms that are more commonly seen with one or the other that can help keep your worries at bay.
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Loss of taste or smell for instance, is more common with COVID-19, especially if it occurs in the absence of congestion, Essig said. Bowel symptoms like diarrhea are also more so a sign of COVID-19 than a summer cold, as is shortness of breath which could be a sign of worsening COVID-19.
“There are two important things to consider,” Essig said. “One, if you get sick you’ve been around someone you know had COVID-19, that increases the likelihood that what you’ve got is COVID-19. But, it’s helpful if you got sick are already fully vaccinated against COVID-19, it makes it much less likely that it is COVID-19 – it’s not impossible but it’s much less likely.”
If you have been around someone, you start suffering from some symptoms of your own, Essig recommends calling a physician or seeking out a COVID-19 test to confirm or rule out a diagnosis.
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And while the CDC has already sent out an advisory regarding an uptick in RSV cases, some are speculating there could be in an increase in colds as well, but Essig said it’s hard to predict because “nobody really knows for sure.”