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I’m sick! Do I have a cold, the flu or COVID?

Sick and tired woman sleeping in the bed in early morning

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We know the feeling all too well: You’re coming down with something. But what exactly is that something? In our post-pandemic world, it has become increasingly more difficult to tell the difference between the common cold, the flu and COVID-19.

While the flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. And while the flu is caused by influenza viruses only, the common cold is caused by a number of different viruses. It’s no wonder we’re left scratching our heads.

So, what are the symptoms? What are the differences? And what can you do to feel better faster? Kenvue has your back, breaking down each virus and what that means for you and your family.

The common cold

Sneezy, stuffy and battling a runny nose? You might have the common cold. Colds are one of the most frequently experienced upper respiratory illnesses that typically resolve quickly. Symptoms of a cold usually peak within two to three days and can include sneezing, nasal congestion, sore throat and/or a cough.

How do you know you have a cold? When viruses that cause colds first infect the nose and sinuses, the nose makes clear mucus. This helps wash the viruses from the nose and sinuses. After two or three days, this may change to a white, yellow or green color.

Learn more about relief for the common cold.

The flu

Unlike the common cold, flu signs and symptoms can come on suddenly. People who are sick with flu often feel some or all symptoms including fever, chills, cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Flu viruses typically cause the most illnesses during the colder months of the year. The flu can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks, though symptoms may linger for up to three weeks.

While not everyone with the flu will have a fever, if you are experiencing these symptoms, it is especially important to stay hydrated. Fevers cause sweating, which may lead to dehydration. Drinking fluids can also keep your throat moistened, helping treat sore throat and cough.

Learn more about symptoms and relief for the flu.


COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that mainly affects the lungs and causes a variety of different symptoms, which can include dry cough, sore throat and headache. However, it may also cause other symptoms like fever, body aches and nausea.

Compared to the flu and common cold, COVID-19 can cause more severe illness in some people. Those with COVID-19 may take longer to show symptoms and may be contagious for longer periods of time.

Whether you are experiencing a common cold, the flu or COVID-19, there are over-the-counter options to manage your symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends pain relievers and fever reducers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen for relief of headache, fever and body aches.

If you have underlying health conditions, you may need added means of protection. Always consult your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your symptoms or treatment options.

Not sure about the difference between acetaminophen or ibuprofen? Learn more.