How to tell the difference between Covid and a cold – as most common symptoms change

COVID symptoms have changed – with many now people confusing the virus with a cold.

The main symptoms Brits are reporting at the moment include a cough and headache.

These could easily be chalked up to a common cold, especially as other winter viruses start to make a return.

But it's important to understand you could be spreading Covid – as the symptoms have developed since the start of the pandemic and become more cold-like.

If you feel unwell and have any new symptoms that could be the virus, get a test.

The most common symptoms of Covid now, according to the latest Office for National Statistics data, are a cough, fatigue and a headache.

Other symptoms which are part of the virus spectrum include fever, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, nausea, diarrhoea or abdominal pain.

The NHS is still just listing the original three symptoms – a cough, fever and loss of taste or smell.

It comes after an expert warned a Covid sore throat could be different to a regular sore throat.

Researchers behind the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app has shown that it is among the most frequently reported symptoms, in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Tim Spector, leading researcher on the study, presented a YouTube video where he asked viewers to report how their throat feels – with many saying it felt dry, rather than sore, as well as “scratchy” or “itchy”.

Being vaccinated also makes virus symptoms present more like a cold, so it's worth being aware of that.

It's important to remember too that being double jabbed doesn't mean you can't catch or pass on Covid – it's aim is to prevent it becoming a serious infection.

People who have a strong positive test are also more likely to report a cough or lack of taste or smell.

Sarah Crofts, Head of Analytical Outputs for the COVID-19 Infection Survey, said: “When the Delta variant became dominant in the early summer and infection levels rose, more people reported symptoms. More recently, this has fallen to just over half of those testing positive.

“As we transition into the autumn and winter it’s important we continue to track the symptoms people experience so that we can identify changes. This is not possible without the valuable contributions of our participants.”  

Symptoms of Covid and a cold


According to the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app, the most common signs of Covid right now are:

  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of smell

The NHS says the main symptoms of the virus are:

  • A high temperature
  • A new, continuous cough
  • A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste


The NHS lists says a common cold can cause:

  • A blocked or runny nose
  • A sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Coughs
  • Sneezing
  • A raised temperature
  • Pressure in your ears and face
  • Loss of taste and smell

A sore throat can be caused by lots of respiratory illnesses, like a seasonal cold, and therefore may not be caused by Covid.

If a person has a sore throat lasting longer than five days, it may be worth seeing a doctor as this could signal something else.

But the way to tell if a sore throat is caused by Covid or a common cold may come down to the other symptoms that accompany it – or, simply, get a PCR test to be sure.

In vaccinated people – the majority of the UK population – the top symptom people with Covid have reported is a runny nose (77 per cent).

This is followed by a headache (74 per cent), sneezing (67 per cent), sore throat (52 per cent) and loss of smell (52 per cent).

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