Women blowing her nose

Do I have COVID-19 or the flu?

CDHF

Written by: CDHF

Updated: November 30th, 2022

We can’t be the only ones that get scared every time our nose starts to run, or feel a cold come on during the global pandemic. So how do you know if you may have symptoms of the novel coronavirus, or just pesky allergies, the flu or a cold?

While the symptoms of all four conditions can be similar, it’s important to know the differences. After some thorough research, we were able to break down the symptoms of each, which we have laid out below for you!

COVID-19:

According to the CDC, symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from person to person and may also vary in different age groups. Some of the most commonly reported symptoms include:

Although the list may crossover with symptoms of the flu, cold or allergies, the novel coronavirus is at its core a respiratory illness, so the most common symptoms are fever, dry cough, and tiredness.

The other symptoms outlined in the list above are less common, are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but only have very mild symptoms. 

The Flu:

Influenza viruses have a similar disease presentation as COVID-19, because they are both respiratory diseases. Both bring about a wide arrange of symptoms from asymptomatic or mild through to severe disease and death.

According to the CDC, flu viruses cause mild to severe illness, including the common symptoms listed in the COVID-19 symptom list. However, the major difference between COVID-19 that differ from the flu include a change in or loss of taste and smell.

In terms of symptoms appearing, with COVID-19 typically a person develops symptoms five days after being infected. Still, symptoms can appear as early as two days after infection OR as late as 14 days after infection, and the time range can vary. With the flu, typically a person develops symptoms anywhere from 1 to 4 days after infection.

Because the symptoms can be so similar, the CDC mentions testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.

Cold:

The common cold has the word common in its name for a reason! It remains common, even during this pandemic. Symptoms of the cold usually include sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches and body aches. However, you will not feel shortness of breath, or GI symptoms, such as diarrhea.

Furthermore, most people will recover from a cold within 7-10 days, in comparison to COVID-19 where in severe cases, it may take six weeks or more to recover, with some resulting in death.

It’s important to note that Ontario and BC suggest reaching out to a doctor and getting tested even if you only have a runny nose or are sneezing to be safe.

Allergies

Last, but not least – allergies tend to pop up around this time of the year and do tend to share some of the same symptoms. However, the CDC mentions there are key differences between the two. Covid-19 can cause fever, which is not common with seasonal allergies – see below for the major differences outlined by the CDC. 

Further to this, seasonal allergies do not usually cause shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, unless someone has a respiratory condition such as asthma that can be triggered by exposure to pollen.

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-seasonal-allergies-faqs.html 

As always, it’s important to remember that symptoms vary from person to person and range from mild to severe, and you could have symptoms of both COVID-19 and seasonal allergies at the same time.

So, above all – If you think you have COVID-19, follow CDC’s guidance on ”What to do if you are sick.” If you have an emergency warning sign (including trouble breathing), seek emergency medical care immediately.

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