COVID, a cold, or the flu?
What you need to know.

Plus a video from Dr. Allison Edwards about what to do if you test positive.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Allison Edwards, Sesame Medical Director
Updated December 2021

A case of the sniffles was once viewed as a mere byproduct of the winter months. Now, rightfully so, we’re immediately questioning: what is this? Is it COVID? Is it the flu? Is it just a cold? Symptom checkers are helpful but aren’t the be-all, end-all. The best thing you can do if you or a loved one are feeling flu-like symptoms is to talk to your doctor and get tested for COVID-19.

So, what are the key differences?

COVID v. Cold

COVID-19 and the common cold are both caused by viruses. COVID is caused by SARS-CoV-2, whereas rhinoviruses are typically what bring about a cold. Many of the symptoms can overlap - but where you’ll see the biggest differences are in GI symptoms. COVID sometimes sees GI symptoms like diarrhea and nausea, where colds do not.

Muscle aches and fever can also be a sign you may be experiencing COVID instead of a cold. Here’s a look at how symptoms can vary across COVID and colds:

Cold or covid

Source: Mayo Clinic

COVID vs. Flu

If you’re wondering whether you might be dealing with the flu or COVID, again, your best course of action is to get a COVID test.

More so than the common cold, flu and COVID share symptoms - and it can be difficult to determine on your own what you may be sick with. Talk to your doctor if you think you may have either, and be sure to follow CDC guidelines if you have been exposed to COVID.

The symptom list below can help - COVID typically sees a dry cough (vs. a wetter one with flu). COVID’s hallmark symptom of loss of taste or smell is important to watch for as well, as it’s not common in flu cases.

Flu or COVID

Source: Mayo Clinic

Sesame offers virtual COVID-19 consults, where you can speak with a doctor about your symptoms. To book or learn more, visit

"I have COVID. What should I do next?"

Sesame's Medical Director Dr. Allison Edwards on what you should do after you're diagnosed with COVID.
Note: Since recording this video the CDC announced that it has shortened the self-quarantine guidelines for asymptomatic patients from 10 days to 5 days.