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’Tis the Season: Know the Difference Between the Flu, a Cold, and COVID-19

’Tis the Season: Know the Difference Between the Flu, a Cold, and COVID-19

We don’t typically recommend self-diagnosis, but when it comes to common illnesses, it’s good to be able to identify the symptoms, so you know how to care for yourself and your family, and know when to seek help. 

When you need prompt, high-quality professional medical care, come see us at Woodstock Family Practice & Urgent Care

Dr. James Lee and our team care for families throughout Woodstock, Georgia, and the surrounding communities by building long-term relationships, managing chronic illnesses, and offering same-day and walk-in appointments for those times when you need immediate help.

This winter, many of our patients have asked us how to tell the difference between the flu, the common cold, and COVID-19. Here, Dr. Lee outlines the primary symptoms to give you a better idea of how each virus behaves. 

Distinguishing symptoms of COVID-19, colds, and flu

Although the symptoms may seem similar, it’s important to know that each of these three conditions stems from a very different virus. The influenza virus causes the flu, the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes COVID-19, and several different viruses can cause the common cold, including seasonal coronaviruses.

When any of these viruses attacks your body, several symptoms can crop up, making it hard to tell which virus you’re dealing with. Here are the top symptoms and their likelihood with each virus.


COVID-19: Fevers are common (100℉ or higher)

Colds: Rarely include a fever

Flu: Often comes with a high fever of about 100-102℉, and it may last three or four days

Sore throat


Fatigue, exhaustion, and weakness


Stuffy nose


Body aches

Runny nose


Shortness of breath

Treating viruses

There are ways to treat your virus at home, but it’s important to know when signs are indicating that you should come see us for a physical exam and a medical diagnosis.


If you come down with a common cold this season, the best thing to do is rest, stay home, keep hydrated, run an air humidifier, and treat your symptoms with over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. To soothe a sore throat, gargle with a solution of warm water mixed with a teaspoon of salt. 

Come see Dr. Lee if your symptoms persist beyond two weeks, you have trouble breathing, you have a fever that lasts more than three days, or your symptoms get worse.


If your flu symptoms are mild, stay home to avoid infecting others, rest, drink plenty of liquids, and eat nutritious meals.

If you’re at risk for complications because you’re 65 or older; you have asthma, diabetes, or heart disease; or you have a compromised immune system, call us right away. Dr. Lee may prescribe an antiviral medication, which may lessen the severity of your symptoms and shorten the duration of the infection. 

Chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, confusion, and severe vomiting are signs you should seek medical care immediately.


Because most cases of COVID-19 are mild, you can care for yourself at home without risking the infection of others by visiting a medical care facility. Like cold and flu viruses, the COVID-19 virus typically runs its course within a week. The at-home advice is the same: rest, hydration, and OTC pain relievers.

However, if you’re an older adult and/or you have other health conditions that could put you at risk for a more serious case of COVID-19, call us so we can help you decide when to seek medical treatment.

Signs that you should seek emergency care include:

COVID-19 can become serious quickly, so monitor your symptoms carefully.

Preventing viruses

You can give yourself an advantage this winter by taking steps to avoid viruses, such as washing your hands often, not touching your mouth and nose, avoiding sick people, wearing a protective mask, and practicing safe coughing and sneezing hygiene, such as covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or sneezing/coughing into your inner elbow.

At Woodstock Family Practice & Urgent Care, we also offer seasonal flu shots and the COVID-19 vaccine. To schedule yours, book an appointment online or call us at 770-927-8273 today. 

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