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How to Differentiate Between the Signs and Symptoms of COVID-19, Allergies, Cold, and Flu?

How are COVID-19, allergies, cold, and flu caused?

Symptoms of Coronavirus disease or COVID-19 can easily be confused with the common cold or flu.
Symptoms of Coronavirus disease or COVID-19 can easily be confused with symptoms of the common cold or flu, or even allergies.

Coronavirus disease or COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. This disease can affect people of any age and gender. Most people with COVID-19 will experience a mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without the need for intensive or special treatment. 

Serious illness is more likely in elderly people and those with underlying medical conditions such as

Common cold is also a viral infection that may be caused by many types of viruses. The virus typically infects the nose and throat. Common cold usually manifests as a mild to moderate harmless illness. It can affect anyone, although children under age six are more susceptible.

Allergies occur when the immune system reacts to foreign substances such as dust, pollen, mold, and certain medications that may be harmless for most people. During an allergic reaction, the immune system releases antibodies (proteins delivering a message to cells to release chemicals) that cause allergic symptoms.

Flu or influenza is also an infectious viral disease. It is caused by an influenza virus. It can cause a mild to severe disease with the severe form occurring more frequently in infants and small children. 

Anyone can get influenza, but some people are at a high risk of serious complications. These include infants, small children, people aged 65 years and above, people with certain long-term medical conditions (such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease) and pregnant women.

How to differentiate between the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, allergies, cold and flu?

Diseases affecting the respiratory system (starting from the nose to the lungs) often manifest with overlapping signs and symptoms. Symptoms of COVID-19 usually occur from 2-14 days after exposure. The symptoms may vary from person to person and may range from mild to severe disease.

COVID-19 symptoms include the following:

Most common symptoms

Less common symptoms

Serious symptoms

Comparison of the symptoms of COVID-19, allergies, cold, and flu

Fever

Cough

  • COVID-19: common
  • Allergies: rare
  • Flu: common
  • Cold: common
Shortness of breath
  • COVID-19: common
  • Allergies: rare
  • Cold: rare
  • Flu: rare
Muscle aches
  • COVID-19: common
  • Allergies: absent
  • Flu: common
  • Cold: sometimes
Sore throat
  • COVID-19: sometimes
  • Allergies: rare
  • Flu: sometimes
  • Cold: common
Diarrhea
  • COVID-19: sometimes
  • Allergies: absent
  • Flu: sometimes
  • Cold: absent

Congestion

  • COVID-19: sometimes
  • Allergies: common
  • Flu: sometimes
  • Cold: common

Loss of smell

  • COVID-19: sometimes
  • Allergies: sometimes
  • Flu: sometimes
  • Cold: sometimes

Runny nose

  • COVID-19: sometimes
  • Allergies: common
  • Flu: sometimes
  • Cold: sometimes

Itchy eyes

  • COVID-19: absent
  • Allergies: common
  • Flu: absent
  • Cold: absent

Sneezing

  • COVID-19: sometimes
  • Allergies: common
  • Flu: sometimes
  • Cold: sometimes

Chills

  • COVID-19: sometimes
  • Allergies: rare
  • Flu: sometimes
  • Cold: rare

Repeated shaking with chills

  • COVID-19: sometimes
  • Allergies: absent
  • Flu: absent
  • Cold: absent

Headache

  • COVID-19: sometimes
  • Allergies: rare
  • Flu: sometimes
  • Cold: rare

Should I visit my doctor if I am not sure whether my symptoms are due to COVID-19, allergies, cold or flu?

If you are not sure of the cause of your symptoms, call your physician to seek advice over the phone. You must seek immediate medical help if you have any of the serious symptoms such as breathing difficulty or shortness of breath, chest pain, high fever or pressure and loss of speech or movement. 

Always contact your doctor on phone before visiting them or any health facility. If you have mild symptoms and are otherwise healthy, you should manage your symptoms at home with the necessary medical guidance from a healthcare provider on the phone.

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Reviewed on 7/31/2020
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