Is a runny nose a symptom of COVID-19?

April 23, 2021

COVID-19 is a complex disease with many different symptoms. 

While most of us are aware of  the three ‘classic’ signs of cough, fever and loss of smell (anosmia), thanks to millions of contributors to the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app we now know that there are more than 20 symptoms of the disease.

In the early days of the pandemic, it was thought that having a runny nose was not a symptom of COVID-19, and was much more likely to be a sign of a regular cold. 

However, data from the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app suggests that having a runny nose can be a sign of COVID-19. 

A runny nose could be a symptom of COVID-19

During the recent winter wave, we noticed that a runny nose was the second most commonly reported symptom in the app after headaches. And nearly 60% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 with loss of smell also reported having a runny nose. 

So while we can say that many people with COVID-19 have a runny nose, it’s more difficult to say that having a runny nose is a definitive symptom of COVID-19 since they are so common, especially in the winter.

While symptoms like cough, fever and loss of smell are common in those who test positive for COVID-19, we found that having a runny nose and sneezing was only very slightly more common in people who tested positive for COVID-19 than those who tested negative.

The likelihood that your runny nose is caused by COVID-19 is influenced by how prevalent the disease is at the time. 

Our data shows that when rates of COVID-19 are high, the chances that a runny nose is due to coronavirus infection is high. But when rates of COVID-19 are low, it’s less likely to be a symptom and more likely to be due to another cause such as a cold or allergy.

Even so, it’s always best to be on the safe side by self-isolating and getting tested if you develop a runny nose, especially in combination with any other key symptoms of COVID-19.

Right now, you can only get an NHS COVID test if you have a cough, fever or loss of smell. But you can get a test through the ZOE COVID Symptom Study if you log any of the known symptoms in the app. 

Being alert to all the symptoms of COVID-19 and getting tested promptly will protect your loved ones and the wider community, helping to spot and contain new cases and bringing the pandemic to an end. 

Stay safe and keep logging.

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