Don’t rely on hearsay. Common Cold doesn’t equal Covid-19

Garlic, Gurus and other Gyaaan

Covid-19 is worrying because of its unknown aspects. But that does not mean you turn to dubious “sources” for information, writes Dr. Noor Gill

We had a 58-year-old lady, looking as fit as a fiddle, walk into our OPD in the ENT department with her daughter-in-law walking by her side. They came and sat as instructed, and so began the montage. She received a WhatsApp forward from a dear friend of hers who believes in some ‘guru ji’ and he said, in fact guaranteed, that if they blocked their ears with a clove of garlic, it will protect them from contracting the coronavirus. Needless to say, she thought it was a great idea and that WhatsApp was a reliable source of medical advice about a disease even the medical professionals know little about.

With the internet full of data and knowledge about anything and everything under the sun, in fact even about the sun itself, acting as the ‘jack of all trades but the master of none’, it has the masters feeling like fools.

If you have a cough, don’t panic – it could be a cold, or allergies. Call your doctor, and explain all your symptoms

Now when we have a headache, we don’t go see a doctor who has a degree; instead we look for an internet connection and a reason to worry. The pain in our temples accelerates from a simple tension headache to a brain tumour quicker than you can pronounce astrocytoma. Don’t you dare Google what that is – you don’t have it!!


Inviting trouble

When you go to WebMD for a solution instead of somebody who actually has an MD as a qualification, a testament to his authenticity and hard work for a rather substantial fix in the form of a prescription, you’re inviting more predicament and inconvenience than explanation and solutions.

With the ongoing pandemic, everyone confined to their homes and the door shut closed and the doctors fighting for PPE, the only source you think you have to turn to is the world wide web – and it throws your way symptoms as vague as cough, nasal discharge, fever and death. All of which could be because of a flu, or your summer allergies kicking in, or something to do with the fact that you’ve been watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai with all this time on your hands.

In medical school, by the time we reach our final year, we start diagnosing each other with all sorts of illnesses and disorders as a game, calling each other funny names and characterising each other based on one or two common physical features like height or being too lanky. It is a fun trick to help us remember and associate a particular feature and symptoms with someone we know – makes it easier to recall and memorise. But some people tend to take it a little too seriously; and with a profession like ours and the world that we are currently living in- where we are seeing more sickness than health. We look for a plain sheet waiting to be filled with medicine that we can’t spell right. Much like that, living in a world where every third person you know has cancer, and every other relative is either diabetic or has a sub-optimally active thyroid, it is easy to fall down the rabbit hole under the false pretence of ‘preparing yourself for the worst’ or ‘being aware and well versed with my disease’ even when you might not even have a disease to start with.

Get it straight

So let’s clarify a few things here, common cold ≠ corona. We tend to confuse these two because both of them involve our respiratory systems. They are not the same disease or caused by the same organism, but there are only so many symptoms a pathogen attacking our airways can present with. Here are some very clear differences to help you understand better. (Source: WHO, CDC, NIH)

Symptoms of COVID-19:

  • Fever – gradual rise, continuous, high-grade fever
  • Cough – dry, non-productive
  • Difficulty in breathing – without any exertion or heavy activity/exercise as a contributing factor

All of this can be associated with

  • Generalized body aches
  • Fatigue

Lesser common symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, sore or scratchy throat, diarrhoea.

And here is how it is different from the COMMON COLD OR THE FLU:

  • Fever is sudden
  • Cough – productive, which means some amount of phlegm, sputum is present
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pains due to weakness
  • Runny or stuffy nose

Now let’s put allergies in the mix and see how they are different from the other two.


  • Sneezing
  • Redness of eyes, watery and itchy eyes
  • Irritation of throat (leading to cough)
  • Runny or stuffy nose

If after this too, you are not sure which one it is and are worried about your health and the safety of your family, go see a doctor, one with a degree he studied hard for, instead of relying on hearsay from WhatsApp and Facebook.

About Dr Noor Gill

Dr Noor Gill, MBBS, deciphers the space between heartbeats, figuratively and literally. Powered by frequent long naps and caffeine, she believes that “knowledge without giving back to society is meaningless” and works to make caring cool again.

View all posts by Dr Noor Gill

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