A cough is one of the hallmark symptoms of COVID-19. But a cough is also a typical symptom of many other conditions, including the flu, the common cold, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and seasonal allergies.
If you’re coughing, you may wonder how you can tell whether it’s due to COVID-19 or a different condition. This article will look at some ways you may be able to tell the difference.
Ever thought about what a COVID-19 cough feels and sounds like?
They were able to tell the difference between a person who coughs to, for example, clear their throat versus someone who coughs because they have an illness. But there isn’t a way to definitively diagnose COVID-19 by cough sound detection, according to a 2022 study.
Now, here’s the scoop: About two-thirds of COVID-19 coughs are like the Sahara – dry and not producing any mucus. It’s like your body is playing a game of ‘Hacky Cough’ that’s hard to quit once it starts.
But wait, there’s more! Sometimes, with COVID-19, you might surprise yourself and cough up a bit of mucus. That’s a plot twist, right?
These cough vibes are different from your regular cough where your body is just trying to kick out some annoying irritant. Those typical coughs usually mind their own business and won’t bother you all day long.
The following chart breaks down some common symptoms of conditions that may cause you to cough. This chart may help you if you’re trying to determine whether your cough is due to COVID-19.
The most definitive way you’ll be able to tell is through testing. You can use tests that determine whether you have COVID-19, the flu, or both — and yes, you can get both COVID-19 and the flu, or another virus, at the same time.
You can also be tested for RSV with a rapid diagnostic test using a nasal swab.
While no specific tests exist for the common cold, they can sometimes help you rule out other conditions. If a healthcare professional rules out COVID-19, RSV, and flu, a cold could be a likely cause of your cough. Colds also tend not to last as long as the flu, RSV, or COVID-19.
|1–3 days after exposure
|1–4 days after exposure
|depends on the season
|4–6 days after exposure
|2–14 days after exposure
|sneezing, sore throat, and runny or stuffy nose
|fatigue, body aches, and headaches
|sore throat, runny nose, and sneezing
|runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, headache
|body aches, fatigue, and loss of smell or taste
What is the treatment for COVID-19 cough?
If you have a cough related to COVID-19, you may experience chest discomfort and interrupted sleep — a concern when you’re trying to rest and recover.
Some methods you can use to specifically address your cough include:
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. This helps to keep your throat moist and reduces irritation.
- Use a cool mist humidifier if the air in your home is very dry. You can also take a hot shower with the door closed to generate plenty of steam.
- Consume cold or hot foods, like popsicles, warm tea, broth, or ice chips. These can all soothe irritated throats and reduce coughing.
- Consider over-the-counter (OTC) cough drops or cough-reducing lollipops.
- Consume a teaspoon of honey. (Infants younger than 1 year old should not consume honey for safety reasons.)
Using cough medication can be controversial if you have a wet cough that brings up mucus. If you suppress your cough, you may not get all the mucus up. Instead, you may wish to take a cough expectorant, which helps you cough the mucus up.
If you have a dry cough, which is typical with COVID-19, taking cough suppressants can help.