Senior woman nursing sore throat

Preparing for cold and flu season amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

In past years, it was the flu and colds that went viral during the fall and winter months. Now, the traditional flu and cold season has all but been forgotten as the effects of COVID-19 are still disrupting many aspects of society. While this virus continues to take over the headlines and hospitals, it’s important to remember that colds and the flu are also around and you need to prepare for flu season, while still staying diligent during the global pandemic. As the fall approaches, medical experts are spreading the word about the spread of colds and the flu this year, as well as ways to stay well throughout the flu and cold season, and the difference between this year’s COVID and flu and cold symptoms now that doctors have a better understanding of COVID-19.

Stay aware of the real facts

Colds, the flu, and COVID-19 are three very different illnesses, but they’re all caused by one thing: a virus. For the last year, colds and the flu have been out of mind mainly because they’ve been out of sight. With most people wearing masks, avoiding social gatherings, canceling travel plans, working remotely, and attending school from home, there was not much of a flu and cold season last fall. As a result, there was barely a need for cold and flu treatment, which was fortunate because hospitals were full of COVID-19 patients. However, this year is shaping up to be different, and you shouldn’t give colds and the flu the cold shoulder. Instead, you need to take the season very seriously because the country has been reopening, with many people returning to work, kids heading back into classrooms, travel back on the schedule, social events happening, and fewer people making masking a must.

What to expect this season

Cold and flu season is up in the air this year because there is no way to know what may happen this fall and winter. But, since so few people had colds or the flu last year, experts worry that this lack of exposure can make people more susceptible to getting sick this year. Even in past years, when you didn’t catch a cold or the flu, you were still exposed to these viruses, which helped your immune system produce antibodies, allowing your body to fight off infection. This year, most people won’t have that immunity advantage and may become more vulnerable to these viruses. And, with safety restrictions eased or eliminated altogether, colds, the flu, and COVID-19 will have a greater chance to spread.

Signs of an impending sickness

COVID and flu and cold symptoms can seem very similar, and it can be difficult to know the difference among these various viruses based only on their symptoms. So, how can you tell whether you may have cold and flu symptoms vs. COVID symptoms? On a scale of bad to worse, the symptoms of colds are the mildest and rarely result in major health problems or pneumonia. Next on the spectrum of COVID and flu and cold symptoms is the flu, which comes with more severe symptoms and a greater risk of illness and infection. Still, there are several over-the-counter cold and flu treatment options that can help ease the symptoms of colds and the flu. Worst of all is COVID-19, whose symptoms can range from mild to severe, yet is most likely to result in serious sickness and hospitalization.

When comparing cold symptoms vs. COVID, the common cold certainly has some things in common with COVID-19. The same is true when comparing flu symptoms vs. COVID symptoms. However, there are more differences between cold symptoms vs. COVID symptoms, with the most common cold symptoms including:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sinus pressure
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Cough
  • Sore throat

And when it comes to flu symptoms vs. COVID, they share many symptoms, such as:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Chills
  • Body or muscle aches
  • Intense fatigue
  • Headaches

Unfortunately, COVID also tends to produce shortness of breath, a sore throat, a runny nose, and a loss of taste or smell.

How to stay healthy and free from sickness

While colds, the flu, and COVID are different, the same basic precautions can help keep you healthy. Consider the following safety measures:

  1. Get vaccinated
  2. Wash your hands frequently
  3. Avoid touching your face
  4. Stay away from crowds and people who are sick
  5. Practice social distancing
  6. Wear a mask to protect yourself and others

If you have concerns about protecting yourself from these various viruses this season, your SignatureMD-affiliated doctor can help you stay safely ahead of their spread.