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Health and Fitness News

Reading the Signs

How can you tell the difference between cold, allergies, flu, and COVID-19?

You’ve got a runny nose, headache, and fatigue. What is it? The answer is getting harder every day.

Because several illnesses and seasonal allergies cause similar symptoms, any unusual symptom can trigger fear. Could you possibly have COVID-19 or is it just allergies? Since there are still so many unknowns about this new coronavirus and symptoms vary from person to person, only a test can give you a clear answer.

Before getting tested, knowing the defining symptoms of each illness can help you know what you’re dealing with, what the best line of treatment is, and if you should call the doctor.

The Common Cold

With a cold you can expect a runny nose, congestion, sore throat, headache, and general malaise. Symptoms come on gradually when dealing with a cold. You may feel a slight sore throat one day and the next day your nose starts to run. A low-grade fever is possible, but rare, and the various symptoms range from mild to severe. When struck with a cold, you may be able to do normal activities or you may need to spend a couple days in bed. A cough may develop near the end of the virus. Typically, colds resolve on their own within a week, and over-the-counter medications can help relieve symptoms in the meantime.

Allergies

For many, spring is a synonym for allergy season. As soon as the trees and flowers start blooming and the pollen count begins to increase, allergies set in. With seasonal allergies, you’re likely to experience runny nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, an itchy throat, fatigue, and postnasal drip that may cause a cough. Allergies can worsen asthma symptoms of coughing and wheezing.

Symptoms may come and go for weeks or months and worsen with exposure to whatever your body considers an allergen. When the problem is an allergy, symptoms can be relieved by antihistamines. If you’re unsure whether you’re suffering from allergies, make an appointment with an allergist to be tested. Allergies do not cause a fever or body aches, so if you’re hurting, something else is going on.

Flu

Flu and COVID-19 are harder to tell apart and may require a test to do so. The most common symptoms of the flu include fever, muscle aches, chills, and fatigue. But you may also have a runny nose, cough, headache, and sore throat. With flu, you won’t experience shortness of breath unless your flu progresses to pneumonia. Vomiting and diarrhea are possible with flu, and are more common in children. Whereas cold symptoms take a while to develop, flu symptoms usually come on suddenly. Prescription antiviral drugs are available to shorten the duration of the flu. Most people recover from the flu in a week to 10 days, though the flu may progress to pneumonia, worsen chronic health conditions, or cause life-threatening health complications.

COVID-19

Like the flu, COVID-19 is typically accompanied by fever, dry cough, fatigue, and a lack of appetite. Some people develop vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea. Others report a temporary loss of smell or taste, a runny nose, sore throat, and body aches. What you won’t have with colds, flu, or allergies but are likely to have with the coronavirus is shortness of breath. Symptoms last up to 14 days, and many infected with COVID-19 experience no symptoms. Regardless of what symptoms are experienced, anyone with COVID-19 can spread the virus. The only way to know for sure if you have coronavirus is to be tested.

Since the virus attacks the lungs, when the immune system goes after the virus it causes inflammation in the lungs. This leads to a lack of oxygen and potential organ failure. As with the flu, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions are at the greatest risk for complications from COVID-19.