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You think you have COVID? What to know about your symptoms and how long to recover

A car passenger sits in her vehicle as she allows a healthcare professional to swab her nose for a COVID-19 PCR Nasal Swab test at a Nomi Health testing center inside Tropical Park in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

Michelle Marchante
Miami Herald

Are you feeling sick?

Maybe it’s COVID. Or the flu. Perhaps its just a cold.

It can be hard to tell unless you get tested. All three illnesses have similar symptoms although they are caused by different viruses. Some people might even get COVID and the flu at the same time.

Certain symptoms are more common with COVID, such as loss of smell or taste. And colds are usually milder than the flu.

The time it takes to recover from each illness also differs. And while there are pills to help treat COVID, not everyone is eligible. It’s also not meant to be an alternative to vaccination.

Here’s a guide to help you out:

What are the most common symptoms of COVID-19?

The Mayo Clinic says the most common symptoms of COVID are:

▪ Fever

▪ Cough

▪ Tiredness

Other common symptoms include:

▪ Loss of taste or smell

▪ Muscle aches

▪ Headache

▪ Sore throat

▪ Congestion or runny nose

▪ Nausea or vomiting

▪ Diarrhea

How long does it take for COVID symptoms to appear? What about the flu and the common cold?

COVID symptoms can appear 2 to 14 days after you’re exposed to the virus, although some people are asymptomatic. Flu symptoms tend to appear one to four days after exposure, while common cold symptoms tend to appear one to three days after exposure, according to the Mayo Clinic.

How long does it take to recover from COVID vs. the flu or cold?

If you fall ill with COVID-19, it can generally take up to two weeks to recover, although some people could have symptoms for weeks or months after recovering. This is known as long-term COVID.

For the common cold, most people recover within 3 to 10 days. Some colds, though, can last as long as two or three weeks. For the flu, most people recover within a few days up to two weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What medication can I take for COVID?

If you fall ill with COVID-19, you might be eligible to get Paxlovid or Molnupiravir, antiviral pills meant to help certain high-risk COVID patients combat the illness at home. The pills, which are under emergency-use authorization, require a doctor’s prescription and can be fulfilled at select pharmacies including Publix, CVS, Walgreens and Walmart.

And unlike monoclonal antibody treatments, which require injections or IV infusion, Paxlovid and Molnupiravir are oral medications. You swallow them like Tylenol.

The FDA says the pills should be taken by eligible patients as soon as possible once they test positive. Paxlovid can be given to people as young as 12. Molnupiravir is for certain patients 18 and older. Treatment should begin within five days of the beginning of symptoms. However, the pills are not an alternative to COVID-19 vaccinations, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration says.

Check with your doctor to see if you’re eligible for the pills. Make sure to mention allergies, illnesses and whether you’re taking any medication, including vitamins or herbal products.

Health officials also recommend people get a COVID-19 vaccine and booster to help reduce their risk of serious illness. If you have COVID, you should not get the vaccine or booster until your isolation period is over. And yes, you can get a COVID vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time.

Difference in symptoms between COVID, the flu and the common cold

COVID, the flu and the common cold are caused by different viruses. Colds are also usually milder than the flu, while COVID can sometimes be worse than the flu. COVID is also usually contagious longer than the flu, according to the CDC.

Again, all three illnesses have similar symptoms but there are some differences. Unless otherwise noted, the info comes from the Mayo Clinic:

▪ New loss of taste or smell is common with COVID and rare with the flu. It can sometimes happen with a common cold if you have a stuffy nose.

▪ While diarrhea, and nausea or vomiting sometimes happen with COVID and the flu, it never happens with the common cold. With the flu, these symptoms are more common in children.

▪ Muscle aches, tiredness and fever usually occur with COVID and the flu. It can sometimes happen with a cold.

▪ Secondary bacterial infections are more common with the flu than COVID, per the CDC.

▪ While sneezing sometimes happens with the common cold, it rarely happens with COVID. The CDC says sneezing sometimes happens with the flu.

▪ People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose than people who have the flu.

I think I have COVID. What should I do?

Think you have COVID? Get tested to check. If you test positive, speak with your doctor to see if you’re eligible for a COVID pill. You should also quarantine. If you live with others, isolate yourself in a room. If you have to be around others, wear a mask and ask them to wear one, too.

At least you have lots of entertainment options to keep you distracted: TikTok, Netflix, Youtube, Disney Plus … and the list goes on.

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