Allergies, Common Cold, Flu or Coronavirus... Which Is It?
Nobody wants to get sick. Ever. We all groan when we feel an illness coming on and hope it's a mild one.
But these days, we do more than groan. Sometimes we panic. The first thought entering our mind is, what if it's the coronavirus?
Seasonal allergies are bad enough. And the flu is certainly horrible on its own.
But when we start to feel lousy and then begin to think about the huge number of confirmed cases of coronavirus and resulting deaths, we pray it's something else going wrong in our bodies.
When we begin to feel ill, how do we tell the difference between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies? Or a cold, or flu?
It's not easy because some symptoms overlap. And even if what we're experiencing is "only" allergies, sometimes our symptoms are more severe than normal. Which can cause confusion.
Perhaps the most perplexing thing is this. In the early stages, upper respiratory illnesses like COVID-19, strep throat and flu can seem similar.
This can be scary. Especially if you are in a high-risk group. Such as a senior. Or someone with an underlying condition like lung disease or diabetes.
If you often have allergy symptoms in the spring, you will experience a runny nose. Plus itchy eyes and nose, and a mild sore throat. Chances are you do not have the coronavirus.
Yes, some people with nasal congestion or a runny nose have tested positive for COVID-19. But a vast majority have not.
As a general rule, most people with seasonal allergies do not develop a fever. If you have a fever as well as other symptoms, something else might be going on.
Knowing exactly what you are allergic to is helpful. For example, you can check pollen, oak and allergen counts in your area.
Some of the same symptoms present with allergies are also present with the common cold.
Such as fatigue, a mild cough, sneezing and a runny nose. Or body aches or a mild sore throat. And sometimes a low-grade fever.
With a cold, these symptoms usually do not worsen much. And they normally subside after a few days.
But if these symptoms intensify and don't go away, something more serious is probably happening.
There are a number of things that can cause a sore throat. Allergies and the common cold, for instance. Post-nasal drip is also a culprit.
If you have strep, most likely your throat will be very sore. And frequently you'll have a fever.
As a general rule, strep is not accompanied by upper respiratory symptoms you get with allergies. As well as with colds and COVID-19.
The bad news with strep is that it doesn't usually go away on its own. The good news is this bacterial infection usually responds well to antibiotics.
Allergies, the common cold and even strep will make us feel awful. But they are treatable. The flu, on the other hand, is in many ways similar to the coronavirus. It's likely to affect your whole body.
Flu usually involves fever, aches and pains. Plus fatigue, chills, a headache, sore throat, runny nose and a dry cough. COVID-19 symptoms include fever, fatigue, dry cough and shortness of breath. Less common are aches and nasal congestion.
Dr. Greg Poland is a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic. He told CNN, "If you have an acute case of coronavirus or flu, you will feel so tired, so achy, you'd basically be driven to bed."
The only way to tell the difference between flu and coronavirus is being tested for them at a medical facility.
Coronavirus Symptoms Can Vary
Trying to identify COVID-19 only by symptoms – without a clinical test – has proven to be virtually impossible.
The hallmarks of serious cases of the coronavirus are fever, a dry cough and difficulty breathing. But other people have had only mild flu-like symptoms.
One study revealed that about 50 percent of people with the virus did not display any symptoms.
A small percentage of those testing positive for coronavirus experienced sneezing and itchy eyes. Or nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Some reported a loss in their ability to taste and smell.
Exposed? Call Your Doctor
If you believe you've been exposed to COVID-19, call your healthcare provider immediately.
Protocols for treating patients have changed recently at medical facilities. They may want to see you, but they may not. Depending on what symptoms you have.
Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water. Use hand sanitizer if they are not available.
Try to avoid touching your face. If you have to go outside, wear something that covers your nose and mouth.
Many people with COVID-19 have only mild symptoms and can recover at home. Get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. Quarantine yourself in one room.
Don't share any glasses, cups, plates or utensils. Or towels and bedding. Clean and disinfect high-touch areas in your sick room and bathroom.
Clean and disinfect any clothing worn during your illness. Don't leave home until you've gone three full days without a fever – and without the use of medicines that reduce fevers.
But if you're having difficulty breathing or have pressure in your chest, contact your doctor immediately.
We'll get through this. But take precautions and take care of yourself.