Am I Experiencing Symptoms of Allergies, the Flu, or COVID-19?


Seasonal allergies, the flu and COVID-19 have some similar symptoms – here’s how to tell the difference.

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With communities across the country concerned about the spread of COVID-19, it’s easy to forget that more typical illnesses like the flu, allergies and the common cold are still going around. Your scratchy throat doesn’t automatically mean you’ve caught COVID-19 – you may very well just be reacting to all the pollen and allergens floating around in the springtime air. So before you assume the worst about that dry cough, check out these helpful tips for understanding your symptoms.

Symptoms of seasonal allergies

For most seasonal allergy sufferers, spring is the most difficult season. Blooming flowers and plants create high amounts of pollen in the air, which can often cause allergy symptoms to flare up. Some people are also allergic to grass, ragweed and other natural allergens.

Allergy symptoms are typically chronic, meaning people will experience them on and off for weeks or months at a time often during the same times of the year. For example, if you always have a allergies associated with a runny nose this time of the year (and no other symptoms) it is probably allergies. Some of the most common allergy symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Facial pain (typically due to inflamed sinuses)
  • Itchy/watery eyes
  • Itchy throat or ears
  • Watery eyes

Some people may also develop a slight cough or, in more extreme cases, difficulty breathing. Shortness of breath is more typically a symptom of allergic asthma, but can also occur in the case of extended exposure to allergens.

The best way to tell whether or not you’re experiencing allergies is to pay attention to when your symptoms flare up and how long they last. It can also be helpful to check daily allergen reports in your area, as certain days have much higher pollen counts than others. You can check sites like Weather.com or Pollen.com to get a feel for how bad your allergies might get on any given day.

Symptoms of the flu

The symptoms of the flu are similar to COVID-19, the flu typically doesn’t cause shortness of breath as severely as COVID-19 in otherwise healthy patients. The flu is likely to cause fever, body aches and a dry cough.

The CDC lists the following as some of the most common symptoms of the flu:

  • Fever/chills (though not everyone who has the flu will run a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle/body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

Symptoms of COVID-19

As mentioned, the main differentiator between COVID-19 and the flu is a pronounced shortness of breath. However, experts say this shortness of breath typically doesn’t set in until about 5 to 10 days after the first sign of fever.

The main symptoms of COVID-19 are fatigue, fever, persistent dry cough and shortness of breath which overlap with many of the flu symptoms.

If you’re still confused or feeling concerned about your symptoms, call your doctor.

Valleywise Health is here to help you and your loved ones stay healthy and calm during these uncertain times of COVID-19. If you have any questions, need support or would like to speak with a doctor, visit ValleywiseHealth.org or call 1-888-VLLYWSE.

Sources:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/flu-allergies-coronavirus-different-symptoms#Cases-can-be-life-threatening
  2. https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-symptoms-compared-to-flu-common-cold-and-allergies-2020-3
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm
  4. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/03/20/coronavirus-allergies-cold-flu-strep-these-differences/2882663001/

About the Author

Frank LoVecchio, DO - Emergency Medicine

Dr. Frank LoVecchio is an emergency medicine physician and Professor of Emergency Medicine at The University of Arizona and Creighton University School of Medicine. He has previously served as Vice Chair and Director of Research for the Valleywise Health Department of Emergency Medicine. He is the Principal Investigator for the Infectious Disease Network (IDNet) studies, a group of Emergency Departments funded through Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to conduct Infectious Disease trials. He has published over 100 peer reviewed articles, co-authored several books and received greater than $20 million in research funding during his career. Dr. LoVecchio is board-certified in Addiction Medicine, Medical Toxicology, Medical Forensics and Emergency Medicine.

Read more posts by Frank LoVecchio, DO  Browse all topics

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