Know the Difference

As a follow-up to my last blog post titled, Uncertain Times,” that had to do with the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, it is important to know the difference between the symptoms of COVID-19 as compared to the flu or allergy symptoms since we are entering peak allergy season right now. The picture at the top of this post gives you a quick list of symptoms for each.

In an article published on March 16, 2020, titled, Coronavirus Vs Flu Vs Allergy: Here’s how the symptoms of the three differ from each other, by Priyanka Mody, journalist and contributor at PinkVilla, she writes:

With symptoms like the common cold, headache and fever, the Coronavirus also known as COVID-19 can easily be mistaken for flu or even allergies for that matter. This can make things trickier by making it difficult to diagnose the virus without a test.

The Coronavirus primarily affects people’s lungs by causing difficulty in breathing or even shortness of breath with dry coughing being a common symptom. Now, if you have a runny nose, you are probably not affected by the Coronavirus. 

Now, if you are short on breath, it is a symptom which is not associated with colds or flu. Headaches and diarrhea is a rare symptom of Coronavirus. 

Now, when it comes to flu and cold, weakness, chills and congestion are what you will experience. Influenza is mostly seasonal and if you experience it each year around the same period, there’s not much to worry about. But, if your city has documented Coronavirus and it is the middle of summer, it’s unlikely to be a flu.

Now, what makes it different from allergies is the fact that each allergy is different. You’d probably experience redness in your eyes with a stuffy nose and sneezing. Allergies tend to go away in a short period of time but, if you experience it for almost 14 days, that’s when you need to take it a step further and consult your doctor. 

Now, the right way to prevent the spread of the deadly virus is to keep a safe distance from people and avoid visiting any kinds of public places. Wash your hands with soap at regular intervals and avoid touching your face. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on March 17, 2020, on Prevention.com titled, Is It Coronavirus, Flu, or Allergies? Here’s How the Symptoms Differ, Per a Doctor,” by Elizabeth Millard, freelance writer focusing on health, wellness, fitness, and food, she writes:

Coughing, sneezing, runny nose, congestion, body aches, chills—obviously, you know you’re under the weather when symptoms like these appear, but how can you tell which storm it is?

Certain signs could point to the common cold or flu, while others may be more serious and present as early signs of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Even more confusing as we head into spring? Some might simply be an indication of seasonal allergies. Here, a doctor explains how to figure out what your body may be dealing with.

Allergies: runny nose + itchy eyes

Welcome to spring, and its many sources of potential allergens, including budding trees, grasses, and pollen. When you’re allergic, that kicks off a major immune response designed to flush out your system, according to Omid Mehdizadeh, M.D., otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.

You might develop a cough when you have allergies, a result of post-nasal drip, which means some of the mucus that accumulates in the sinus passages trickles down through the back of your throat. Dr. Mehdizadeh adds that you may even experience the opposite problem, where your nose gets congestedalong with sneezing, headaches, and red, itchy, or puffy eyes. Skin rashes may also occur in some people.

Flu: body aches

Despite coronavirus getting the most attention (and rightfully so), keep in mind that flu season is still in swing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that flu activity remains high right now for most of the country, with only three states—Arizona, Florida, and Wyoming—reporting minimal levels.

It’s important to note that even doctors have a difficult time differentiating a mild case of novel coronavirus from the common cold or flu, since there is a lot of overlap in symptoms. But if you are not experiencing a fever and are leaning more toward body aches and headaches, it’s likely a case of the flu, Dr. Mehdizadeh says. Here’s what flu symptoms can look and feel like overall, per the CDC:

    • Fever or feeling feverish/chills (but not for everyone)
    • Cough
    • Sore throat
    • Runny or stuffy nose
    • Muscle or body aches
    • Headaches
    • Fatigue (tiredness)
    • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)

“Obviously, if you have symptoms like these, the best thing to do is stay home, rest, hydrate, and focus on getting healthy,” Dr. Mehdizadeh notes.

And, some good news: Measures that help prevent coronavirus spread, such as washing your hands more and maintaining more physical distance, can also help prevent the flu.

Coronavirus: fever + cough + shortness of breath

Although some people who come down with the flu may have a fever, an overwhelming majority of people who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 so far report that the disease started with a high temperature, according to Dr. Mehdizadeh.

It’s such a heads-up about the condition, in fact, that health officials automatically check for a fever when they screen people for COVID-19 at places like airports and even the White House press room. “This is absolutely the leading symptom,” says Dr. Mehdizadeh. “You should not have a fever with allergies, and if you do, it means there’s an underlying infection that you need to get checked.”

A small percentage of people who’ve had the virus also develop gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea or diarrhea, symptoms that don’t always come with the flu in adults. These signs could also be indications of norovirus, but with that illness, you’ll likely have more severe GI symptoms like vomiting and stomach pain.

Another major COVID-19 symptom that doesn’t typically present with other illnesses is shortness of breath, Dr. Mehdizadeh adds. The flu might give you some respiratory symptoms like coughing and congestion, but it rarely causes “air hunger,” in which you feel like you can’t get oxygen and you end up taking more breaths to compensate. That’s the situation with more advanced cases of COVID-19, he says.

In general, the main signs and symptoms of COVID-19 could vary and include the following, per a February report of a joint World Health Organization-China mission:

    • Fever
    • Dry cough
    • Fatigue
    • Sputum production
    • Shortness of breath
    • Sore throat
    • Muscle pain
    • Headaches

If you think you have COVID-19, the CDC recommendation is to call your physician’s office or hospital and describe your symptoms, rather than going to the emergency room, where you could expose others to the virus if you have it. You’ll be advised about next steps, whether that means staying home or going to a specific healthcare facility.

If you’re still unsure, ask yourself these questions:

What are your initial symptoms?

Runny nose and itchy eyes? Allergies. Aching muscles but no fever? It could be the flu. As for COVID-19, expect symptoms similar to the flu, but with fever coming on strong (and possible shortness of breath in advanced cases).

When did your symptoms start?

Seasonal allergies tend to come on gradually over a series of days or a week, since allergens are increasing every day, with trees budding and pollen spreading. The flu, however, tends to come on suddenly, and norovirus is even faster. There’s still much to learn about COVID-19, but current reports suggest that it begins slower than the flu—typically with a fever first followed by the symptoms mentioned above between two and 14 days after exposure.

Are symptoms getting progressively worse?

You should hit a plateau with allergies, although that can drag on for months. With a flu or COVID-19, you’re looking at around a week to 10 days with a milder case. But if your symptoms are worsening, you may be headed for pneumonia with the flu or respiratory distress with coronavirus. In either of those cases, seek medical attention.

Have you been traveling?

If you think you have COVID-19, you’re likely to be asked if you or someone you have direct contact with has been traveling—especially to hot spots where the virus is prevalent, like China or Italy—or if you’ve been on a cruise. (Quote source here.)

In this last article published on March 11, 2020, titled, How to tell the difference between the symptoms of coronavirus, allergies and the flu,” by A.J. Willingham, writer for CNN Digital, she gives the following information on context:

The coronavirus has infected more than 100,000 people worldwide. With all of the news of event cancellations, empty flights and health precautions (wash your hands!), it’s natural that people may get a little anxious every time they feel a tickle in their throat or the beginnings of a bad cough.

While the coronavirus is certainly something to take seriously, the chances of any individual person getting it are still low. But if you’re wondering whether that stuffy nose could end up being a worst case scenario, CNN talked to Dr. Greg Poland, a professor of medicine and Infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic and director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, about the differences between typical allergy, cold and flu symptoms, and ones associated with the coronavirus.

Itchy eyes? Runny nose? You probably have allergies — or a garden variety cold.

“The issue with seasonal allergies is that they affect the nose and eye,” Poland says. “They tend to be nasal, and most symptoms are localized to the head, unless you also experience a rash.”

Coronavirus and flu symptoms tend to be more systemic.

That is, they affect the whole body.

“The flu and the novel coronavirus, these affect other systems and the lower respiratory tract,” Poland says. “You probably won’t have a runny nose, but what you might have is a sore throat, a cough, a fever or shortness of breath. So it’s a subtly different clinical diagnosis.”

Pay attention to your temperature: Poland says it’s very unlikely that allergies would result in a fever. They usually don’t cause shortness of breath either, unless you have a preexisting condition like asthma.

Allergy symptoms are regularly occurring, and usually mild.

Poland says if you’ve had the same symptoms around the same time, year after year, you’re probably experiencing seasonal allergies. In that case, over the counter medication and other regular health precautions will help you feel better.

Coronavirus and flu symptoms can put you out of commission.

“If you have an acute case of coronavirus or flu, you will feel so tired, so achy, you’d basically be driven to bed. Everybody would see the difference,” Poland says.Allergies may make you feel tired, but they’re not going to cause severe muscle or joint ache.”

Cold and mild flu symptoms usually resolve themselves.

With normal illnesses, you’ll start feeling better with rest and proper care within a few days (unless you are elderly or have other health conditions, in which case even mild illnesses may take longer to pass).

Coronavirus and acute flu symptoms could get worse over time.

If you have a nasty case of the flu or coronavirus, you may get worse when you expect to get better. This is a sure sign to seek medical care.

“What would increase the suspicion of coronavirus would be if you were short of breath,” Poland says. “People can also develop pneumonia from the flu, which has a similar presentation, so either way you’re going to want to seek medical attention.”

Early symptoms of allergies, cold, flu and coronavirus could be similar.

Unfortunately, Poland says, the initial stages of colds, flus and the coronavirus can be very similar, and some coronavirus and flu cases can be so mild they don’t raise any red flags. That’s why you have to pay attention to see if your symptoms persist, especially if you are in an at-risk group.

“We’re worried about older people, people with asthma or other lung diseases, people with heart disease or diabetes, and also pregnant women,” Poland says.

Coronavirus cases usually have some context.

So you think you have the coronavirus. Poland says any doctor is bound to ask you some contextual questions, like:

    • Have you traveled recently, and if so, where?
    • Have you had anybody in your home or had a workmate or schoolmate who’s traveled? Where did they go?
    • Have you had anybody in your home from areas where the outbreak is most concentrated?
    • Have you been on a cruise ship?
    • Do you live near an area where there’s an outbreak?

“You’re like a detective, trying to accept and put together pieces of data,” Poland says. “If someone who hasn’t left the middle of Kansas thinks they have the coronavirus, I would say take a Tylenol, have plenty of fluids and rest.”

It may sound harsh, but the current availability of testing, treatment and proper response to the virus doesn’t accommodate vague inclinations.

“If you’re worried, call in to your physician,” says Poland. ” Describe your symptoms and they’ll make a decision. You can’t test everybody and you can’t test anybody repeatedly.”

This is also an opportunity to do some critical thinking before you race for a diagnosis.

“You would take that next step if your suspicion increases,” Poland says. 

Just because it isn’t the coronavirus, doesn’t mean it isn’t serious.

“In the last few months, 30 million Americans have been infected with a virus,” Poland says. “About 300 to 500 thousand of them so severe they had to be hospitalized, and about 30,000 of them died. It’s the influenza virus. We are so culturally numb to ‘just the flu’ that we don’t take it seriously despite the numbers. And in contrast, the coronavirus has killed about 3,300 in roughly the same time.”

Yes, the coronavirus may have a comparatively higher death rate, but Poland also points out the more people that are infected, the more likely it is the infection will spread to others.

This means even with the statistical difference in death rates, the flu is more prevalent and far more likely to be a problem for the average person.

“When you have 30 million infected, it’s easy to infect that next 10 million,” Poland says.

The bottom line.

While taking precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is important, you may need to live with some uncertainty when it comes to the general health anxieties it inspires.

It’s up to you to stay vigilant, take into account your medical history, monitor any symptoms and think critically about whether your specific situation puts you at risk — or whether you just need a Zyrtec and some rest. (Quote source here.)

I hope this information is helpful in differentiating between coronavirus, flu, and allergy symptoms and if you are unsure, see a health care provider or clinic. And the best thing you can remember to do often and at all times is to…

Wash . . .

Your . . .

Hands . . . .

YouTube Video: “How To Tell If It’s Coronavirus, The Flu, A Cold, Or Allergies”:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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