Is it a cold, flu, allergy, or Covid-19 disease?

Is it a cold, flu, allergy, or Covid-19 disease?

Nov 2, 2020 - In the past, a cough or sore throat was a very clear sign that you had a cold or flu. During this year's cold and flu season, you also have to wonder if you have contracted COVID-19. It is an important distinction. The new coronavirus can not only cause serious complications, but it is also highly contagious.

Respiratory illnesses can share many of the same symptoms - fever, chills, cough, fatigue, sore throat, body aches, headache, and stuffy nose - so it's not easy to tell the difference.

"Unfortunately, there is such a large overlap between the symptoms of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses that most of us believe is largely impossible to distinguish from symptoms alone," says Lisa Marajakis, MD, Senior Director of Infection. Prevention in the Johns Hopkins Health System.

One of the symptoms that could indicate COVID-19 is a loss of the sense of taste and smell, says Monica Lipson, professor of medicine in George Washington University's School of Medicine and Health Sciences (GW). "We don't see those infected with other viruses." Although you may have a gradual and subtle fading out of taste and smell with the common cold, COVID is a faster and more dramatic loss of these senses, she says.

Another thing that differs from the new Coronavirus is that it can affect blood vessels and cause blood clots. Lipson says this appears as symptoms such as chest pressure or severe pain and headache.

Illness length is another clue. Cold and flu symptoms usually disappear within 7 to 10 days, while symptoms of the Coronavirus can last longer. The problem, Marajakis says, is that by the time symptoms pass for a week, they may have already revealed many people.
Do allergies fall?

Allergy and COVID have a lot in common. They share symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, headache, congestion, and fatigue. One difference is that allergies do not cause fever and chills, while Covid-19 disease does not cause itching or tears in the eyes.

Another tip is whether you have had these symptoms before. "Usually, sensitivity is not new," Leibson says. "It does not come from a vacuum." But even if you have dealt with a fall allergy in the past, assuming it's the cause of your symptoms can be risky.

If you assume you have an allergy, only to get tested for COVID-19 later, “then you are in a position to look back and say, 'How many people have you been exposed to when you assumed they had an allergy? The safest thing you can do if you are not at all sure of your symptoms is to get a COVID test.
What to do if you have symptoms

In the past, you might have waited for mild symptoms like a cough or sore throat at home, but this year is different. "Even for mild symptoms, I recommend getting tested," says Marajakis. Call your doctor or local health department. Ask if you need to be tested for COVID, and how to get it. Many pharmacies and urgent care centers now provide them, along with driving test centers.

While waiting for results, take precautions. Stay home away from work and away from other people, even in your home, to avoid spreading the virus.

There are also tests to diagnose the flu, some of which can give you results within 10 to 15 minutes. One test can help identify what's bothering you by checking for both COVID-19 and two influenza strains (influenza A and B). The point is, it may not be available everywhere. There are also many strains of influenza, so a negative test does not rule this out. Marajakis says that other combined tests are being developed for COVID-19 and respiratory diseases like influenza, as well as saliva tests that will make it easier and faster for more people to find out if they have the new coronavirus.
Protect yourself from colds, flu, and COVID-19

"One way to avoid the diagnostic dilemma is to make sure you get the flu shot, or if you are older, you are aware of the latest pneumonia vaccine," says Leibson. "In both influenza and coronavirus, you could end up in the hospital. What we want to do is maintain our hospital operations not only for people with coronavirus, but also for anyone else who needs to use our medical services."

Since all upper respiratory diseases - colds, influenza, and COVID-19 - are spread through respiratory droplets, taking the same precautions that health experts recommend to prevent COVID-19 should also spare you from those other infections. Wear a mask over your nose and mouth, stay at least 6 feet away from others, and wash your hands often. 

 Be extra careful during the holiday season. "The concern is that many people travel to visit family and friends," says Marajakis. "We know that SARS-CoV-2 is on the rise and frankly out of control in many parts of our country." She adds that being indoors in gatherings of more than 10 or 15 people poses a great risk of transmitting the virus. It could be one year when you stay home and almost see your family through the Zoom Dinner.


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