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Telling the Difference Between Allergies, a Cold, Influenza and COVID-19

It’s that time of year again when the sniffles, sneezes, and coughs become all too common. But how do you know if you’re dealing with a simple case of allergies or a cold or something more serious like the flu or COVID-19? Telling the difference between these conditions can be a challenge, but it’s important to know so you can take the appropriate steps to protect your health and prevent the spread of illness.



Allergies are a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Allergies occur when the body’s immune system reacts to a foreign substance (allergen), such as pollen, dust, or pet dander.


Symptoms of Allergies

  • Sneezing
  • Itching eyes, nose, or throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing

Symptoms of allergies can last for days or weeks, depending on the allergen and the severity of the reaction. Allergies don’t typically cause fever, body aches, or fatigue, so if you notice any of these signs, it’s likely due to one of the conditions below.


The Common Cold

The common cold is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory system. It’s caused by one of several types of viruses and can last for up to two weeks.


Symptoms of a Cold

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Watery eyes
  • Mild headache
  • Low-grade fever

There is no cure for the common cold, but symptoms can be managed with rest and over-the-counter medications until the cold goes away.


Influenza (Flu)

The flu is another viral infection that affects the upper respiratory system, but it’s usually more severe than a cold. It’s caused by a different type of virus called influenza, which comes in four different strains: A, B, C, and D.


Symptoms of the Flu

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea (in some cases)

The flu may be treated with antiviral medications, but it’s best to receive seasonal flu vaccines to prevent infection.



COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It can cause mild to severe symptoms, and in some cases, it can be deadly.


Symptoms of COVID-19

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of smell or taste (in some cases)

COVID-19 is typically treated with supportive care and rest, but some patients may also require additional medications or oxygen therapy. The best way to prevent serious COVID-19 symptoms is to get vaccinated and practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently.


When to See a Doctor

When you or a loved one feel under the weather, it’s hard to know when to seek medical attention. In general, allergies and the common cold can be managed with home remedies, but it’s important to see a doctor if symptoms get worse or don’t improve after a few days.

A doctor may be able to recommend treatments to alleviate symptoms and prescribe medications if necessary.

Some cases of the flu or COVID-19 can be managed at home if the individual is strong and healthy. However, if you or a loved one experience severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, a high-grade fever or confusion, it’s important to seek medical attention.


Tips for Staying Healthy

The best way to protect yourself and those around you is to practice proper hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently, covering your cough or sneezing, and avoiding close contact with people who are ill. Additionally, it’s important to get vaccinated against seasonal flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19.

If you feel sick, avoid contact with others until you’ve been cleared by a healthcare provider. Even if it’s a cold, you can help prevent the spread of germs by not going to work or school until you’re feeling better.

Finally, if you have allergies, it’s important to identify and avoid triggers as much as possible. Talk to your doctor about potential treatment options that can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of a severe reaction.


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