CareNow® - April 23, 2021

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has changed a lot of our behaviors over the past year, but how we respond to seemingly minor symptoms like a runny nose or itchy and watery eyes has been severely impacted.

While things like seasonal allergies, the flu and the coronavirus may share some symptoms at a broad level, many experts are quick to point out that each of these things have many different and unique symptoms at their cores.

This means that if you have some of these minor symptoms like runny nose or itchy eyes, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to start worrying about it being COVID-19. In this article we will look at the specific symptoms associated with common allergies, influenza and Coronavirus.

Although, if you believe you may have COVID-19 or been exposed to the virus, CareNow® clinics can provide COVID-19 testing at one of our more than 100 locations throughout the country.

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Common symptoms between the coronavirus the flu

Coronaviruses as a whole are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory illness and are actually common throughout many parts of the world. There are actually several known coronavirus variants that infect people every year. In fact, most of the coronavirus variants only cause mild respiratory illness, which typically appear similar to the common cold. 

Unfortunately, this is where COVID-19 begins to look a bit different as it can lead to severe illness. While COVID-19 may share symptoms with the common cold or the flu, in certain individuals the symptoms can actually lead to serious complications that need to be taken seriously. 

Although these symptoms may seem similar, it is important to note that COVID-19 is not the flu. It is true that they are both highly-contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are actually caused by two completely different viruses. Because both viruses ultimately cause respiratory issues, it is easy to become confused when comparing symptoms between COVID-19 and the flu. 

Your respiratory system is in charge of oxygenating your blood by moving fresh air into your body and is composed of a set system of organs that respond similarly when they come into contact with harmful bacteria or viruses. Because the respiratory system responds in a consistent manner, similar symptoms can occur regardless of the actual bacteria or viruses that get in.

The most common symptoms that COVID-19 and the flu share include:

  • Fever greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Chills and shivering
  • Severe headache
  • Coughing
  • Muscle pain and general body aches
  • Fatigue, lack of energy or muscle weakness 
  • Nausea or vomiting not associated to food illness
  • Diarrhea

What should you know about allergies?

Allergies occur when your immune system negatively responds to a foreign substance. These foreign substances that elicit a response are known as allergens. Some common allergens include pollen, animal dander, dust mites, mold and certain foods. 

When comparing COVID-19, the flu and allergies, it is important to keep in mind how long symptoms have been present. COVID-19 and the flu are acute illnesses, meaning people generally have no symptoms until they come into contact with the virus. In contrast, allergies are typically chronic, presenting with symptoms off and on depending on external factors. 

Allergies can be present for years and can come and go depending on things like weather, location and season. If someone is infected with the flu or coronavirus, symptoms tend to be consistent and would continue regardless of time of day, weather, locality or other external factors. Allergy symptoms can vary greatly depending on the type of allergen and the individual person's immune system response. The most common symptoms allergy sufferers may experience are:

  • Respiratory allergy: sneezing, itching of the nose, eyes or roof of the mouth, runny or stuffy nose and watery or red and swollen eyes known as conjunctivitis.
  • Food allergy: tingling in the mouth, swelling of the lips, tongue, face or throat, hives or rashes on the skin and difficulty breathing (known as anaphylaxis).
  • Insect allergy: swelling at the sting or bite site, itchy skin, widespread hives or rashes, coughing and difficulty breathing.

If your symptoms appear to be allergies, but you are still concerned, a trip to the provider may be warranted. This is particularly true if standard over-the-counter allergy medications don’t seem to be providing enough relief of your symptoms. If you have started a new medication and are experiencing complications, call the provider who prescribed it right away.

When to see a provider or go to the emergency room

If you’re experiencing life-threatening symptoms due to COVID-19 or any other medical condition, it is important to seek emergency care immediately.

If you think you have COVID-19 and are experiencing mild symptoms like cough, fatigue, headache or loss of smell and taste, a trip to the provider may not be warranted. In general, someone with no additional complications and a healthy immune system will be able to recover with rest and over-the-counter medications at home. 

Mild cases of COVID-19 are thought to last approximately two weeks. In contrast, if you or someone you know is experiencing serious complications related to COVID-19, immediate care and a trip to the emergency room may be needed.

These signs include:

  • Blue or purple coloring of the face or lips
  • Tightness of the chest, including pain and pressure
  • General confusion or fogginess
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Inability to wake up or remain conscious

Although there is no exact way to identify who will develop serious complications with COVID-19, your risk increases if you have certain medical conditions, these include:

  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • High blood pressure
  • Hypertension
  • Immune deficiencies
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes

Although the coronavirus has taken center stage and is rightfully receiving plenty of media coverage, small sniffles and sneezes do not always need to warrant concern.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, please use the Web Check-In®feature to wait safely from home and we will call you when it's time to come in.

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Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.