Is it COVID-19, Flu, A Cold, Or Allergies? What Your Symptoms Suggest


Is it COVID-19, Flu, A Cold, Or Allergies? What Your Symptoms Suggest

Common Cold.COVID-19.The Flu
Lisa Fields
By Lisa Fields
Apr 28, 2020 - Updated Sept 24, 2020
Meron Hirpa, MD
Medically Reviewed ByMeron Hirpa, MD
Is it COVID-19, Flu, A Cold, Or Allergies? What Your Symptoms Suggest

In today’s uncertain health climate, every little twinge or cough may make you worry that you could have early symptoms of the novel coronavirus disease.

And if you’re the type of person who likes to know what kind of illness you’re dealing with, you may feel concerned or frustrated that in many geographic locations, it’s difficult to get tested to confirm whether or not you do, in fact, have [coronavirus disease (COVID-19)][1].

A formal diagnosis may bring some peace of mind (or at least satisfy your curiosity), but it won’t guarantee you a curet: There are [no FDA-approved medications][2] to treat coronavirus disease at the moment, but it’s still important to know that you have the illness so if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, it is important that you contact your health care provider or use a [telehealth service][3] to get checked out.

Search RxSaver to determine if your medication is available for home delivery.

Recommendations regarding who should and can be tested vary by state. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who have symptoms of COVID-19, those who have had close contact (within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes) with someone who has confirmed COVID-19 and those who have been referred to get testing by a health care provider and health department should get tested for COVID-19.

You can visit your state or local health department’s website to look for the latest guidance on testing.

Some experts believe that a percentage of COVID-19 tests report false negatives – meaning that you’ve really got the virus when the test result says otherwise – based on research findings from China.

For this reason, when you suspect that you have COVID-19, it may be helpful to take precautions and self-isolate as if you’re sick with the virus, even if you can’t get access to a test or your test result is negative.

However, other upper respiratory conditions which are also common at this time of year share many similar symptoms with COVID-19. For this reason, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the various illnesses based on symptoms alone. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your health care provider first.

Here are some key similarities and differences between COVID-19 and other upper respiratory conditions:

  Cough Fever Congestion Sneezing Sore Throat Itchy Throat Difficulty Breathing Watery/Itchy Eyes Conjunctivitis
Flu 𝘟 𝘟 𝘟 𝘟 𝘟
Cold 𝘟 𝘟 𝘟 𝘟 𝘟
Allergies 𝘟 𝘟 𝘟 𝘟 𝘟

Always seek the advice of your health care professional if you are experiencing any symptoms or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Most Common Symptoms of COVID-19

Doctors and researchers are still learning about this new virus, the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever or chills, a cough, shortness of breath, muscle or body aches, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, headache, diarrhea, feeling tired, nausea or vomiting as well as congestion or runny nose.

What kind of cough is most concerning? A dry cough is common among people with coronavirus disease, according to the World Health Organization. A productive cough (with mucus or phlegm) is less common but still possible.

Some people with COVID-19 may experience less common symptoms such as having pink eye (conjunctivitis), according to new research.

Updated September 18, 2020: Here are the most common symptoms of COVID-19 according to the CDC. These symptoms may appear alone or in combination with each other:

Fever or Chills Cough Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing Fatigue Muscle or body aches Headache New loss of taste or smell Sore throat Congestion or runny nose Nausea or vomiting Diarrhea

Some people (especially older adults and people with certain underlying medical conditions) are at higher risk of experiencing difficulty breathing, which indicates severe disease.

Symptoms that are emergency warning signs of severe illness with COVID-19 include trouble breathing, unrelenting pressure on the chest, chest pain, new confusion, inability to wake, or stay awake or bluish lips. Anyone who experiences these warning signs should get medical attention immediately.

Most Common Symptoms of the Common Cold

There’s some overlap among COVID-19 symptoms and symptoms of the common cold, but there are differences, as well.

The most common symptoms of the common cold include a sore throat and coughing, a stuffy or runny nose and sneezing, a general 'under the weather feeling' and body aches.

Nasal symptoms – sneezing, congestion or a runny nose – are much more common among people with colds than those with coronavirus disease. A productive cough (with mucus or phlegm) may also be present among people with colds. This is also possible with coronavirus disease, but it’s less common.

If you have a cold, it’s very unlikely that you’ll develop a fever. However, most people with COVID-19 – up to 98 percent of those with the illness – experience fever.

Most Common Symptoms of the Flu

The coronavirus disease struck during flu season, and many symptoms of the two viruses overlap, which may make it hard to tell the difference between the two conditions. But there may be subtle differences.

The most common symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, a cough, a sore throat, a stuffy or runny nose, body aches, a headache and feeling tired. Diarrhea and vomiting are possible, but they’re less common.

Symptoms tend to come on suddenly with the flu. With COVID-19, symptoms may appear more gradually, although some people may experience symptoms more suddenly.

You may recover from the flu more quickly than from COVID-19, although this may vary by the person. Mild cases of the flu may improve within a few days to a week. For COVID-19, milder cases may resolve within two weeks, while more severe cases may take up to six weeks. Pneumonia is a possible complication of both illnesses.

People with the flu may develop shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, including a feeling of pressure or pain in the chest, but this is less common and indicates severe illness that requires immediate medical attention. Shortness of breath and breathing difficulties are more common among people with coronavirus disease

People with the flu are more likely to have headaches and body aches or lose their appetites than people with COVID-19, although these symptoms are possible for people with coronavirus disease, as well.

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Most Common Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies

Now that spring has arrived, you may begin to experience seasonal allergies because of the pollen in the air. Some allergy symptoms overlap with cold symptoms, and some cold symptoms overlap with COVID-19 symptoms, but allergy symptoms tend to be different than COVID-19 symptoms.

The most common symptoms of seasonal allergies – also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis or, more casually, hay fever – include a runny or stuffy nose plus sneezing, along with an itchy feeling in the throat, nose, eyes, ears or roof of the mouth. It’s also common for the eyes to water or appear red and the skin surrounding the eyes to darken or become swollen.

Although the nickname for seasonal allergies is “hay fever,” people with allergies don’t actually experience fever, which is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. Coughing and shortness of breath – the other two most common symptoms of coronavirus disease– are also not typical for people with allergies.

Don’t Assume Your Symptoms Must Suggest COVID-19

While it is possible for people with COVID-19 to have a runny or stuffy nose, it’s not very common. In the absence of other coronavirus disease symptoms, a runny or stuffy nose shouldn’t be worrisome. And when combined with other symptoms of seasonal allergies, a runny or stuffy nose should suggest that you’re suffering from a pollen allergy, not coronavirus disease, especially if you experience seasonal allergies every year.

Always check in with your health care provider if you are concerned about symptoms.  In light of many doctor offices closing, there are various telehealth options to help you find a health care provider online.

Lisa Fields

Lisa Fields

Lisa Fields is a freelance writer who specializes in health, psychology, and wellness. A regular contributor to the RxSaver blog, she has also written for Reader’s Digest, WebMD, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, Next Avenue and many other publications.

Meron Hirpa, MD

Meron Hirpa, MD

Meron Hirpa, MD, is an Internal Medicine Public Health Physician at the Cincinnati Health Department. Dr. Hirpa obtained her medical degree from the University of Florida College of Medicine and completed her residency training in Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. She is board-certified in Internal Medicine and holds specialized training in urban health, global health, quality improvement, and health disparities. Dr. Hirpa treats a broad spectrum of illnesses in adults. She is dedicated to patient-centered care and equity and is passionate about closing the healthcare gap among different groups. Towards that end, she led award-winning diversity and inclusion initiatives in the healthcare space. In addition to treating her patients, Dr. Hirpa conducts theoretical and clinical research and publishes in academic journals. Dr. Hirpa frequently appears in radio and television programs for healthcare commentaries.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.