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These days, at the first sign of a cough or stuffy nose, you’re probably wondering about the cause. As we move into winter and prepare for a possible third wave of high COVID-19 infections, it’s normal to worry about confusing allergies or the flu with the coronavirus. Use our guide to help you understand the difference.
While many of us are still battling fears surrounding COVID-19, most people think they know the major symptoms by now. Despite this knowledge, it can be difficult to tell COVID-19 apart from the flu and allergies, since many signs and symptoms overlap.
Here are some of the key differences:
- COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2), while influenza A and B viruses cause the flu.
- COVID-19 symptoms usually appear 2 to 14 days after exposure, while the appearance of flu symptoms can sometimes be more sudden, within 1 to 4 days.
- Allergy symptoms are usually ongoing and chronic.
- Symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu may include body aches, which aren’t typically associated with allergies.
Do your symptoms indicate COVID-19?
It’s important to note that symptoms may vary, and some people may not experience any symptoms at all.
Common COVID-19 symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of taste or smell
If you suspect you have COVID-19: isolating at home immediately and call your doctor to find out if you should be tested. Get in touch with everyone you’ve been in contact with in the last two weeks to see if they have symptoms or have been in contact with anyone who has tested positive.
Do your symptoms indicate allergies?
Allergy symptoms depend on the kind of allergy you have as well as, in some cases, the weather. Pollen counts may aggravate your symptoms if you have hayfever. Wheezing, shortness of breath and chest pain are usually only experienced if you have asthma.
Common allergy symptoms:
- Itchiness (the nose, eyes and throat)
- A runny nose
- A sore throat or cough due to postnasal drip
- A headache due to swollen and blocked sinuses
If you suspect your allergies: Whether you have a history of allergies or are newly diagnosed, it’s important to take your prescribed medication or talk to your doctor about stronger medication. Your doctor may suggest an allergy test to determine the exact source of your allergy or prescribe over-the-counter medication.
Do your symptoms indicate the flu?
Common flu symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
If you suspect you have the flu: Since COVID-19 and flu symptoms are very similar, it’s important to prioritise safety – for you and others. Call your doctor to assess your symptoms. You may be prescribed medication or over-the-counter treatment, and practising social distancing would still be beneficial.
Still not sure if you have COVID-19?
If you still aren’t sure about your symptoms, it’s best to isolate at home, monitor your symptoms and keep in contact with your doctor. If you experience chest pain or difficulty breathing, or have symptoms for more than 10 days, it is advised that you see your doctor immediately.
For more flu-related advice, read this helpful article:
The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a professional. E&OE.
- Wolfson, A. R. (2020). Allergies? Common cold? Flu? Or COVID-19? [online] Harvard Health Publishing. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/allergies-common-cold-flu-or-covid-19-2020040919492 [Accessed 15 March 2021]
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021). COVID-19, Cold, Allergies and the Flu: What Are the Differences? [online] Mayo Clinic. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/covid-19-cold-flu-and-allergies-differences/art-20503981 [Accessed 15 March 2021]
- Curley, B. (2021). Not Sure You Have COVID-19? Here Are the Symptoms for Coronavirus, Flu, and Allergies. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/flu-allergies-coronavirus-different-symptoms [Accessed 15 May 2021]