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Dear Dr Jennifer: I get winter colds a lot – how will I know if it is Covid-19?

Ask the Doctor


Sore throat alone does not need to be tested for Covid-19

Sore throat alone does not need to be tested for Covid-19

Sore throat alone does not need to be tested for Covid-19

Question: I suffer a lot with colds during the winter months, and often have sore throats, sniffles and a cough. Usually it wouldn’t bother me and I get on with things but I’m worried this year with Covid-19. What are the different symptoms of a cold and Covid I should be aware of? Anything I should do to avoid the colds? Should I isolate and get tested every time I feel sick?

Answer: In healthy individuals, it’s perfectly normal to suffer up to five non-specific viral illnesses including head colds every year. As with most things in life, you need to use your common sense and if you feel unwell then take note of your symptoms and their exact time of onset.

One or more of the first four common symptoms indicate you need to arrange a Covid-19 test:

  • Fever (greater than or equal to 38C)
  • Dry cough (not getting up sputum/phlegm from the lungs)
  • Shortness of breath (a sensation of difficulty breathing)
  • Loss or change in sense of taste or smell (some studies suggest that loss of smell occurs in up to two out of every three patients)

Other symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or joint aches and pains
  • Nasal congestion
  • Conjunctivitis (pink or red eyes)
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Skin rash (up to five different types can be seen with Covid)
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea and/or abdominal pain
  • Chills or dizziness

If you do not have one or more of the first four common symptoms, but you have some of the remainder on the list, it is advised to stay at home and self-isolate for a minimum of 48 hours from the resolution of symptoms. Sore throat alone does not need to be tested for Covid-19 but sore throat with fever or cough (both on the list of first four common symptoms) does need to attend for a test.

Young children often have a persistent cold, a blocked or runny nose but no fever and therefore can attend school or childcare. If the child needs paracetamol or ibuprofen for their symptoms, they must not attend for 48 hours and testing may be indicated. Children with a chronic cough in the absence of fever or fatigue, do not usually require testing unless the cough deteriorates or they become unwell.

If you have nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and/or abdominal pain, these symptoms are unlikely to be the sole symptom of Covid-19. Consider testing where these symptoms occur in association with a fever but remain mindful of other causes such as gastroenteritis, urinary tract infection or acute appendicitis.

You also asked about how you can avoid (or reduce your risk of) infections in general. Most viruses, particularly Covid-19, enter your body by direct contact with your eyes, nose and/or mouth, so avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

Washing hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds, or if this cannot be performed cleaning hands thoroughly with alcohol gel, is recommended. The most important thing for us to do is to maintain our physical distance (ideally two metres) between others in public places, and to avoid gatherings of large groups of people. The use of face masks, both indoors (e.g. supermarkets, shops and public transport) and in overcrowded outdoor situations should be strongly considered when physical-distancing cannot be guaranteed.

Lastly, good respiratory etiquette (covering your cough/sneeze), cleaning/disinfecting objects and surfaces that are frequently touched and ensuring adequate ventilation of indoor spaces will all help reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission as well as other infections.

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If you have any queries, email askthedoctor@independent.ie Dr Jennifer Grant is a GP with Beacon HealthCheck

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