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How the COVID-19 pandemic changed our approach to sore throats and runny noses

A sore throat is one of the many potential symptoms of COVID-19, which is the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

However, a sore throat is only one of the symptoms that may develop due to COVID-19. Some other symptoms are much more common.

Is a sore throat a common symptom of COVID-19?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms that develop with COVID-19 can vary from one person to another.

A sore throat can be one symptom of COVID-19.

A survey study published in February 2021 notes that, compared with other symptoms, a sore throat had an earlier onset.

This makes sense because in other respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold, a sore throat is often an early symptom.

Respiratory viruses are inhaled, meaning they enter your nose and throat first. They may replicate there early on, leading to throat soreness and irritation.

Reports on how common a sore throat is with COVID-19 varies based on the group that’s being studied. For example, a study of 120 people with COVID-19 found that a sore throat was reported by 30 percent of study participants. Another study of 99 people found that it was only reported in 5 percent of cases.

A study in China, commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) and published early in the pandemic, found that out of more than 55,000 confirmed cases, only 13.9 percent  of people reported a sore throat.

This aligns with the findings of a systematic review and meta-analysis that was published in November 2020. Researchers analyzed 148 studies that looked at the symptoms in 24,410 adults with confirmed COVID-19. It found that the prevalence of a sore throat was 12 percent.

The ZOE Study, an initiative started by the ZOE Company and King’s College London, tracks self-reported COVID-19 symptoms through the COVID-19 Symptom Study app (iOS, Android).

So far, a sore throat is a commonly reported symptom, with almost half of users reporting it. This symptom is also more often reported in people between the ages of 18 and 65, and appears to be slightly less common in vaccinated people.

Age may also be a factor in the type of COVID-19 symptoms you have.

An observational study published in January 2021 involved 373 healthcare workers. Of those who got COVID-19, typical cold symptoms like sore throat and runny or stuffy nose were more commonly reported in participants under the age of 30.

What does a COVID-19 sore throat feel like?

There’s not really any information on whether a COVID-19 sore throat feels different from a sore throat due to other causes.

Generally speaking, developing a sore throat is a common symptom of several other illnesses, including the common cold and strep throat.

If you have a sore throat due to COVID-19, you may notice general sore throat symptoms like:

  • pain or a feeling of thickness in your throat, especially when you swallow or talk
  • a dry or scratchy feeling in your throat
  • redness or inflammation in the back of your throat

At the end of the day, the only way to know for sure whether your sore throat is caused by COVID-19 is to get tested. A healthcare professional or your state or local health department can provide you with information on where to get a COVID-19 test.

What other symptoms are often warning signs of COVID-19?

Other symptoms may be more common signs of COVID-19.

Several systematic reviews have evaluated common COVID-19 symptoms. Generally speaking, the authors of these reviews have found that the three most commonly documented COVID-19 symptoms are:

  • fever
  • cough
  • fatigue
  • Along with a sore throat, other less common COVID-19 symptoms include:
  • shortness of breath
  • headache
  • muscle aches and pains
  • chills
  • loss of smell or taste
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • digestive symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

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