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Allergy, cold, flu or COVID-19, can you tell the difference?

Ramiro Guzman
6 min read
Allergy, cold, flu or COVID-19, can you tell the difference?
Allergy, flu, or a simple cold can be mistaken for COVID-19

The pandemic has put society in general on alert, so any symptom consistent with coronavirus is cause for alarm. But, believe it or not, it will not always be synonymous with COVID-19.

Other pathological conditions such as allergies, colds or flu are triggers of similar symptoms. As a result, it seems useful to know how to differentiate them all without problems.

Quickly reviewing what is COVID-19

It is a respiratory infection caused by a new coronavirus discovered in 2019. From then on, the pathogen is identified as SARS-CoV-2, being the main trigger for the characteristic symptoms.

Today, the disease is known to generate clinical manifestations identical to influenza. General malaise, dry cough, headache plus loss of smell and taste, are the most subsequent.

Compared to the flu, the common cold, and allergies, the appearance of their symptoms follows a pattern.

From the beginning, medical criteria indicate that they are found between the first 2 to 14 days. The rest, between 1 and 3 days, the manifestations appear after contact with the pathogen.

Its transmission is determined by the detachment of small saliva or respiratory droplets issued by the infected person. When you speak, cough, or sneeze, you can release them and infect anyone within 2 meters away.

In severe cases, it is associated with pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), or septic shock. If not treated intensively, it can lead to immediate death.

COVID-19 is not the same as the flu, allergy, or cold

With the discovery of new variants and its expansion throughout the world, COVID-19 has changed since 2020. Its symptoms are varied, so only a discard test will confirm if you are really positive for the virus.

Allergy, cold, flu or COVID-19, can you tell the difference?
COVID-19 test and test provide definitive diagnosis

It is precisely because of its variability in symptomatological presentation that there is a tendency to be confused with the common flu, allergy or cold. However, each condition is alien to each other and, although they have many similarities, it is convenient to space them out.

Let's start with the flu

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), the flu or influenza is only caused by one type of virus. Thus, the influenza virus is responsible for the contagion and outcome of the subsequent disease.

Generally, its common symptoms are fever, cough, sore throat, and stuffy nose. With regard to the latter, if it is very pronounced, it can lead to loss of taste and smell. Instead, COVID-19 produces both symptoms without any hint of nasal packing.

On the other hand, flu symptoms appear in a prolonged period of 1 to 3 days. As already mentioned, it is a marked difference with the coronavirus disease, where demonstrations can be announced up to the 14th.

Likewise, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are not typical of an influenza flu. Rather, COVID-19 has been directly associated with them on a variety of occasions.

The famous common cold

The same CDC indicates that the common cold is caused by different types of viruses. Among the most prominent are rhinoviruses, adenoviruses, and seasonal coronaviruses, far removed from SARS-CoV-2.

During the cold, the fever is almost completely ruled out, except for certain conditions such as previous infectious diseases. In short, it is not very frequent.

On the other hand, muscular ailments, gastrointestinal manifestations and alteration of the senses have no place in this opportunity. Basically, it's just limited to "burning" in the throat, nasal congestion, constant sneezing, and eventual coughing.

Additionally, the cold is due to major climatic changes. Humidity or cold sensations are triggers or risk factors that condition its staging.

What about the allergy?

Allergy is not a disease by itself, but the end result of an immune hypersensitivity reaction. In other words, it is the body's response to a component (allergen) that is not tolerated by the immune system.

In short, it is not a clinical picture that is associated with a microorganism such as viruses, bacteria or fungi. Actually, it is exposure to "something" like pollen, dust, or any food that causes an allergic response.

Allergy, cold, flu or COVID-19, can you tell the difference?
Exposure to environmental factors conditions allergies

Of course, the symptoms of an allergy are vastly different from a flu, a cold or COVID-19. Fever is, moreover, entirely absent, as are coughs and general ailments. Neither are discomforts of the gastrointestinal tract accounted for.

As such, they are only limited to severe itching (itching) in certain areas of the body, redness, tearing, sweating, among others. Dyspnea (shortness of breath) is only possible when the production of nasal discharge congests the upper airways.

Testing for COVID-19 will make the final ruling

What is difficult about the diagnosis and differentiation between each of these conditions is not only their similarity. It is also played with the possibility that COVID-19, in a large percentage, is totally asymptomatic.

If what is required is to definitively recognize if you have coronavirus disease, the ideal is to undergo a test. To do this, there are several ways to do it, from rapid antigen testing to PCR.

When is the best time?

When presenting any symptoms explained previously, it is advisable to go to the test. In turn, if you have been in contact with someone infected or recently positive for the virus, go immediately.

Caution when coming out negative

The medical consensus to date states that a negative is not always reliable. Therefore, it is advisable that after the maximum 14 days, a new attempt is made.

If the same result is ratified, it is known with certainty that it is not or was COVID-19.

What if it is positive?

A positive result in any of the tests is synonymous with caution. Putting yourself under medical control and following the therapeutic indications will be key to overcoming the disease.

Along with the evidence showing the effectiveness of vaccination, the risks of severe symptoms are reduced. Fortunately, the CDC establishes that after 5 to 10 days the viral load decreases progressively.

Finally, it is crucial to remain calm and not fall into disparities with unscientific comments or arguments. Hand in hand with these keys, in a matter of a few days that chapter of uncertainty in personal health will have been overcome.