Do You Have COVID-19, the Flu or a Cold?

Private: Daniel A. Solomon, MD
Contributor Daniel A. Solomon, MD

If you’re not feeling well, you may be worried you have COVID-19 or another illness. The coronavirus, colds, flu and other viruses are spreading at the same time.

These illnesses have many overlapping symptoms. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know what’s causing your symptoms without testing. Find out what to do if you have symptoms.

Which COVID-19 symptoms overlap with other illnesses?

“It’s important not to necessarily discount symptoms, even if they’re mild,” said Daniel Solomon, MD, an infectious disease doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “It may still be important to get tested for COVID-19 so that we can give thoughtful guidance about quarantine, isolation and contact tracing in order to keep everyone around us safe.”

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of the illnesses below.

Chart comparing COVID-19 symptoms, cold symptoms, flu symptoms and allergy symptoms

Chart source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Should you get tested for COVID-19?

“The overlap is the real challenge here because you can have any number of symptoms that could be COVID,” said Dr. Solomon. “But it could also be seasonal allergies or it could be other circulating respiratory viruses.”

Even if you have mild symptoms, speak with your health care provider.

“We know right now that the common cold rhinovirus is still circulating in our community and people are coming down with a runny nose and a sore throat,” added Solomon.

“But since COVID is still spreading in our community, these symptoms could also be COVID, and we won’t know without a diagnostic test. If you have symptoms, it’s important to speak with a health care provider who can help decide whether you should get tested for COVID. If a test is warranted, they can place an order that allows you to get tested without coming into a health care setting and putting others at risk. That’s usually a drive-thru test and it’s convenient.”

Private: Daniel A. Solomon, MD
Daniel A. Solomon, MD

Dr. Solomon is an infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Before you go,

Get additional tips on keeping your family healthy and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more COVID-19 articles.