Covid-19 cases may have ebbed in the country but the virus continues to be a global challenge with almost 3.5 million cases reported weekly. Also, the scare of Omicron’s new variant BF.7, which is wreaking havoc in China and other countries, has only added to the woes. As such, it is crucial to remain vigilant, practise the necessary precautions and equip yourself with the right knowledge.

One of the most common confusions people face, especially during the winter season, is distinguishing Covid-19 infection from a common cold. With Covid cases once again rising, let’s understand from experts how you can not mistake it for a common cold. “Common cold is quite common during winter and seasonal changes and is, often, harmless. There are more than 200-300 viruses that may cause the common cold. In each virus type, there can be subtypes and variants. Majority of the common colds are caused by rhinoviruses, respiratory syncytial viruses, influenza type A and type B viruses, etc,” Dr Anantha Padmanabha, Consultant, Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Nagarbhavi said.

He added that these viruses cause the common cold when there is a change in seasons, but especially in the winter season when they thrive too much and become active. “Generally, they cause infection in the upper respiratory tract, which is restricted to the nose and the throat. That’s why people experience stuffy noses, redness in the eyes, mild throat irritation, headache, etc. Generally, severe cough and breathlessness are not seen. Also, one may not have a high fever in case of a common cold. As such, it is usually harmless and is self-limiting,” he explained.

Agreeing, Dr Shuchin Bajaj, Founder and Director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals said that a common cold is usually characterised by cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, blocked nose, red eyes, recurrent sneezing, spiking fever and severe headache.

Common cold is associated with runny and stuffed nose (Source: Pexels)

So, when is a patient likely infected with Covid-19 and not a common cold? “More severe respiratory infections such as MERS and SARS can be caused by influenza H1N1 type or the coronavirus. It may start with upper respiratory infections such as cold and cough but as time passes, one may experience more severe symptoms such as excessive cough, breathlessness, chest tightness and high-grade fever. It can be detrimental as this virus will also invade the lower respiratory tract, affecting the lungs and alveoli. In this case, a patient may need hospitalisation under specialised care. This is how we differentiate clinically.”

Dr Bajaj added that Covid-19 is usually associated with dry cough, high fever and headache, and the patient may not expectorate. “If you are having any form of respiratory distress including difficulty in breathing, then immediately contact your doctor. If your fingernails or peripheries are turning blue, or if your oxygen concentration is showing below the normal levels in a pulse oximeter, then you must visit a doctor,” he said.

He suggested undertaking the 6-minute jog test to determine the oxygen concentration levels in the body. “Take a pulse oximeter and jog on the spot. Normally, your oxygen concentration levels should rise after six minutes of jogging. However, if it falls by more than 5 points, then you need to take immediate medical consultation,” he elucidated.

Dr Padmanabha said that experts generally don’t do investigations in case of the common cold as it rarely harms anyone. “If it is restricted to the upper respiratory tract, even an x-ray won’t show anything. Sometimes, doctors may take a nasal swab or a throat swab to diagnose. If the infection becomes more severe and we feel the patient needs more attention and specialised care, then we go for tests such as blood tests, x-rays, etc to differentiate,” he told

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