When to See a Healthcare Provider for a Cough

Published On: January 5, 2021Categories: Uncategorized

The benefit of social distancing and mask-wearing has been that 2020-21 is on track to have a minimal to low flu season. Moreover, the CDC recommends flu vaccines for everyone over six months of age. However, an advertising blitz this fall has pushed flu vaccine rates to levels much higher than normal.

However, catching the flu is still a concern because it can lead to respiratory problems and even death in vulnerable populations. Moreover, with COVID-19 continuing to spread, being able to tell the difference between a minor cold, a more serious flu, or a deadly COVID-19 infection is critically important. While a cold or flu might clear up without treatment, COVID-19 must be closely monitored and may require treatment by a healthcare provider.

Here are some facts about each virus and some of the ways they differ from one another so you know whether you need to visit an urgent care center or speak to a healthcare provider:


Most colds are caused by rhinovirus. However, some colds are caused by a variety of coronavirus that is different from the strain that causes COVID-19. In either case, colds are respiratory illnesses, but are usually limited to the upper respiratory system, according to the CDC. Specifically, colds will cause a runny nose, stuffy sinuses, and sore throat. The cough that accompanies a cold is usually mild to moderate and usually does not cause chest pain or wheezing.

Colds usually clear up in seven to 10 days without treatment. Fatigue is usually not a symptom of colds, but you might feel run down while your immune system fights the virus.


Flu is caused by the influenza virus. Influenza is also an illness and can reach deep into your respiratory system. As a result, you will usually feel only mild flu symptoms in your nose, sinuses, and throat. Instead, you will develop a moderate to severe cough that may be accompanied by chest pain and wheezing. Other common flu symptoms include muscle and joint aches, fever, chills, and fatigue.

The flu can be more persistent than colds, with symptoms lasting one to two weeks. Flu can also lead to complications, like pneumonia, that usually do not accompany colds. As a result, a severe flu or a flu that causes respiratory complications might require a visit to the doctor or other healthcare provider.


COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus. This means that the virus that causes COVID-19 was only discovered in 2019. This is why doctors have had to learn how to recognize and treat COVID-19 on the fly.

COVID-19, like colds and flu, is a type of respiratory illness. COVID-19 produces many of the same symptoms as flu, such as a fever and a moderate to severe cough. Other symptoms of COVID-19 include muscle aches, headache, and fatigue.

Differences Among the Viruses

Colds are the mildest of the three viruses. Moreover, colds are felt more in the upper respiratory system than in the lungs. If you have a runny nose, sore throat, and stuffed sinuses, you probably have a cold.

Colds also come on slowly. You might have a sore throat and runny nose before you develop other symptoms.

Flu, on the other hand, comes on very quickly. The most important symptom that distinguishes colds from flu or COVID-19 is the lack of fever. Both flu and COVID-19 cause a fever. Colds do not usually cause a fever.

If you have a mild to moderate cough, no fever, and symptoms in your nose and throat rather than your lungs, you probably have a cold. As such, you do not require a visit to the urgent care clinic or treatment by a healthcare provider.

The flu is serious, particularly in young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. In healthy adults, however, the flu will likely run its course without causing complications.

Symptoms that accompany the flu, but are rare with colds, include:

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

Most importantly, flu usually causes a more severe cough than colds. This severe cough may cause chest pain and wheezing. If you experience any of these symptoms, you probably have the flu. You should monitor your symptoms and be prepared to visit a Secaucus urgent care if they worsen.

COVID-19 is the most serious of these respiratory illnesses. Doctors currently estimate that a patient infected with COVID-19 is three to five times more likely to die than those infected with flu.

Moreover, COVID-19 is much more contagious than flu. Pre-symptomatic patients can infect others before even realizing that they are infected.

Flu and COVID-19 share many of the same symptoms. However, doctors have identified subtle differences including:

  • Flu symptoms come on more abruptly than COVID-19 symptoms.
  • COVID-19 is often accompanied by a loss of smell and taste, while flu is not.
  • A flu cough may be phlegmy or dry, while a COVID-19 cough is almost always dry.
  • A flu cough is moderate to severe but a COVID=19 cough is often so serious that it leaves patients short of breath.

If you have any concern that you have COVID-19, you should seek out a testing center. A test can determine if you have flu or COVID-19. This, in turn, will tell you whether you need to quarantine from your family, friends, and co-workers. Most importantly, a test can tell you how closely you should watch your symptoms and whether you should contact a healthcare provider.

For more information, don’t hesitate to reach out to the urgent care facility you can trust: Care Station Medical.