Brandon Lawrence, MD 12/4/20 1:30 PM 6 min read

Coronavirus Symptoms - Cold or COVID?

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have continued to skyrocket over the past couple of weeks, it is more important now than ever for us to monitor ourselves for COVID symptoms so we can quarantine, get tested, and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

However, as we dive further into the cold and flu season, it can be difficult to determine whether our coughs and headaches are a sign that we are coming down with the common cold or whether we have COVID-19.

This presents a significant problem. People who are not aware of the symptoms of the coronavirus might think that their COVID symptoms are actually just a sign that they are getting a cold and continue to go to work, visit public places, and spend time with their family members.

In order to prevent this from happening and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, it is essential for everyone to recognize and self-monitor for these symptoms of COVID-19:

1. Cough, fever, or shortness of breath

The most well-known symptoms of COVID-19 are a persistent cough, a fever, and difficulty breathing. According to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), approximately 96% of symptomatic patients surveyed reported experiencing at least one of these symptoms with 68% of hospitalized patients experiencing all three symptoms [1].

2. Feelings of weakness, muscle aches, and fatigue

According to a study conducted by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine analyzing the emergency departments at five hospitals in New York City, 57.5% of patients who decided to go to the hospital because of feelings of weakness or fatigue tested positive for COVID-19 [2].

3. Headaches

One of the first signs that someone might have coronavirus is a persistent headache. Many people who report experiencing headaches as a result of COVID-19 note that these headaches are different from migraines and typically involve pain throughout the entire head and significant head pressure.

The CDC found that approximately 59% of the symptomatic patients they surveyed since the start of the pandemic reported headaches [1].

4. Blood sugar concerns

Approximately 55.5% of patients who went to the hospital because of concerns regarding their blood sugar control tested positive for COVID-19 according to the aforementioned American Journal of Emergency Medicine study.

5. Gastrointestinal discomfort

The same study also found that 51.4% of patients who decided to go to the hospital for gastrointestinal pain or discomfort tested positive for COVID-19.There are many signs of gastrointestinal symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

According to reports gathered by the CDC, roughly half of the patients they surveyed reported at least one of the gastrointestinal symptoms above, with the greatest number of these patients (38%) experiencing diarrhea and the fewest number of these patients (13%) reporting vomiting [1].

6. New loss of taste or smell

Another commonly reported COVID symptom that is not associated with a traditional cold is a loss of taste or smell. According to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in 25% of cases, this symptom was the only symptom that was reported by patients who tested positive for coronavirus and as many as 80% of patients with COVID reported this symptom [3].

7. Sore throat

The CDC found that most patients with COVID-19 reported having a sore throat in the days leading up to their positive test. While this symptom is often also present in individuals with the common cold, it is also quite common in COVID patients.

If you are exhibiting one or more of the symptoms above, there is a possibility that what you are experiencing may be more than the common cold, and you should get tested for COVID-19. Self-monitoring for these symptoms is one of the most helpful ways to help minimize the spread of the coronavirus and help ease the burden on healthcare workers who are working tirelessly on the frontlines to keep people safe.


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Brandon Lawrence, MD

Dr. Lawrence is an Emergency Medicine Physician born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, currently working in the west valley. From the start of the pandemic, he has been passionate about being on the forefront for care of his patients and protection for his fellow healthcare professionals. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, exercise and podcasting. He graduated from University of Arizona with a Bachelor's in Biochemistry and Michigan State University for his Medical Degree.