COVID may cause a unique type of sore throat to other common bugs, an expert has said.
Researchers want to study it more so that specific advice can be given on coronavirus symptoms.
A sore throat is not listed by the NHS as a main Covid symptom – only a cough, high temperature and loss of smell/taste is.
But the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app has shown that it is among the most frequently reported symptoms, in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Tim Spector, the leading researcher on the study, presented a YouTube video in which he asked viewers to report exactly how their sore throat feels.
He said: “We are getting a messages that the sore throat people are getting with Covid is a bit unusual, it’s not like they’ve seen it before.
“Maybe in a different place, or it feels differently.
“We might be doing some more research on that to see if we can distinguish these Covid type symptoms from the ones of a normal cold virus.”
Among the thousands of comments, some people said that their sore throat had been dry, rather than sore, as well as “scratchy” or “itchy”.
Others noted their tonsils had flared up, becoming red and larger.
Another said: “Id had sore throats in the past but this was the worst I had every experienced. The pain was so bad it woke me up and I felt I was dying. I don't want to be over dramatic but it was horrible [sic].”
Is it a Covid sore throat or a cold?
Almost half of people with Covid have had a sore throat, ZOE data suggest.
The study, which uses data from millions of app users, says the Covid sore throat tends to be mild, come in the first week of illness and lasts no more than five days.
“It feels worse on the first day of infection but gets better on each following day,” the website says.
It says a sore throat can be caused by lots of respiratory illnesses, like a seasonal cold, and therefore may not be caused by Covid.
And it warns that if a person has a sore throat lasting longer than five days, it may be worth seeing a doctor as this could signal something else.
But the way to tell if a sore throat is caused by Covid or a common cold may come down to the other symptoms that accompany it.
“Having a sore throat together with loss of smell (anosmia) is more likely to be Covid-19 than a regular cold”, the researchers say.
According to the NHS, a loss of taste and smell may also be caused by a common cold.
And, as the app suggests, Covid is slowly becoming increasingly similar to a cold in the way it presents.
Symptoms of Covid and a cold
According to the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app, the most common signs of Covid right now are:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Loss of smell
The NHS says the main symptoms of the virus are:
- A high temperature
- A new, continuous cough
- A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
The NHS lists says a common cold can cause:
- A blocked or runny nose
- A sore throat
- Muscle aches
- A raised temperature
- Pressure in your ears and face
- Loss of taste and smell
In vaccinated people – the majority of the UK population – the top symptom people with Covid have reported is a runny nose (77 per cent).
This is followed by a headache (74 per cent), sneezing (67 per cent), sore throat (52 per cent) and loss of smell (52 per cent).
The ZOE study has for months been calling for the Government to change its list of main Covid symptoms to reflect warning signs like a sore throat.
Its data shows that only half of people get the classic three symptoms.
Only loss of smell is on the NHS symptom list – thanks to campaigning from the ZOE app in early 2020.
In Prof Spector’s update this week, he said that it was good news that symptomatic Covid cases appear to have come down slightly, from 51,900 last week to 47,300 this week.
However, he warned of areas in the UK that are more at risk of severe NHS pressure.
The study has been analysing which parts of the UK are at a disadvantage due to having lower NHS hospital capacity.
The Midlands looks to be in the worst position, followed by the South East. It wouldn’t take much in terms of growth for it to start struggling, Prof Spector said.
He said: “We've heard about Scotland having problems in the last few weeks, with many hospitals being full.
“We've started estimating what the capacities are across the country, and what level cases would need to get to when hospitals get overrun.
“Groups from the government have been suggesting that the likelihood of admissions doubling in next month is quite high.
“As we start to project that out, we start to get some nervous looking figures across the country.”
The Midlands “doesn’t have good capacity compared to the number of people being sick”, Prof Spector said, adding: “It wouldn't take much to tip the Midlands into a big problem.
“In contrast, you can see in London there is huge capacity and it would take a very large number of cases to overrun.
“I have a feeling this will be a more regional problem, if it becomes one."
Prof Spector said if he was running the country he would be using the Government’s “Plan B” now.
The Government’s “Plan A” to tackle Covid over the winter involves a mass booster vaccination programme.
But ministers are leaving mask wearing, social distancing and home-working in reserve under “Plan B”, in case the situation worsens.
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