Feeling groggy and worn down in the lead-up to the Christmas period is just something to expect nowadays.

The dreaded seasonal cold always makes a return, unfortunately, but how do you know it isn't something else?

Last month Covid-19 hospitalisations increased by 24 per cent in one week in the UK as the new variant Pirola swept across the UK.

With that in mind, it's important to know the difference between Covid, the cold, or the flu.

What are the differences between Covid, the flu, and a cold?

Each of these illnesses is caused by different viruses, but unfortunately, they can have similar symptoms. As different symptoms and different strains of Covid-19 have arisen, it’s become harder to tell the difference between Covid-19, colds and flu.

According to the British Heart Foundation, Covid-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the strain of coronavirus that first emerged in December 2019. This strain of coronavirus hadn’t been seen in humans before.

Flu (influenza) is also a respiratory illness that affects your lungs, but flu is caused by a different kind of virus, instead of a coronavirus. Flu can be dangerous, which is why those with underlying medical conditions like heart disease or diabetes are offered a flu jab at this time of year.

Colds are caused by many different viruses, but most commonly a rhinovirus or a coronavirus (not the same type of coronavirus that causes Covid-19). A cold only affects your upper respiratory tract (your nose and throat), not your lungs. Because of this, a cold is often referred to as a "head cold". Colds usually aren't serious.

What are the symptoms of Covid-19?

The main symptoms of Covid-19 have changed over time, and the NHS has updated its list of symptoms to reflect this. The new list of Covid-19 symptoms includes:

  • high temperature or shivering
  • a new and continuous cough
  • a blocked or runny nose
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • an aching body
  • feeling breathless
  • loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea
  • feeling sick or being sick

The following Covid-19 symptoms are also being reported by users of the Covid ZOE app:

  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • blocked nose
  • persistent cough
  • headache

These Covid-19 symptoms are similar to those you may experience when you have a cold or flu, which can make it hard to tell the difference.

Coronavirus symptoms vs cold

The Omicron variant (the most dominant strain in the UK) has symptoms that are very similar to a cold. Symptoms such as a headache, a sore throat, a runny nose, muscle aches, coughing or sneezing can be symptoms of the Omicron variant, or a cold.  

Coronavirus symptoms vs flu

It’s not easy to tell the difference between Covid-19 and the flu.

The flu has many symptoms in common with Covid, such as a headache, sore throat, fever, cough, tiredness, muscle aches, a runny nose and shortness of breath.

However, it’s unusual for the flu to cause a loss or change to your sense of taste and smell, which can happen with Covid-19.