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How to Tell the Difference Between Flu, Allergies, and COVID-19

Monday , March 16 , 2020

How to Tell the Difference Between Flu, Allergies, and COVID-19

Runny nose? Sneezing? Watery eyes?

That might be the start of seasonal allergies, or perhaps a cold . . . but probably not COVID-19.

Medical experts say that if you’re displaying symptoms of the novel coronavirus or you’ve been exposed to someone who has symptoms, you should contact your primary care physician right away – but it can be difficult to tell the difference between flu, allergies, and COVID-19.

Here’s what you need to know:


Differences Between Allergies, Flu, and Coronavirus


Seasonal Allergies


Sneezing, runny/stuffy nose, itchy/watery eyes, itchy nose, itchy roof of mouth



Allergy symptoms last if you are exposed to the allergen. Seasonal allergies can last for weeks on end.


Time of year:

Seasonal allergies are more common in the spring and autumn.


How to tell the difference:

Although rare, other illnesses (including COVID-19) may have similar symptoms to allergies. The difference is often that allergy symptoms happen all at once, whereas a viral infection tends to cause one symptom at a time (headache, then runny nose, then cough, etc.).




Fever over 100.4 F, dry cough, chills and sweats, congestion, sore throat, muscle aches/weakness, and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults.



For most people, the flu is a short-term illness that resolves on its own. Symptoms typically appear one to four days after exposure and last for five to seven days.


Time of year:

Influenza is more common between late fall and early spring, but can occur at any time of the year.


How to tell the difference:

Headache, aches and pain, sore throat, and fatigue – symptoms that are common with flu – don’t typically present in Coronavirus patients.




Fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and are often worse for the elderly and those with preexisting conditions.



Symptoms usually appear 2 to 14 days after exposure and how long they last depends on the severity of the case. People with more mild symptoms appear to get better in 10 to 14 days, while more serious cases may result in pneumonia and last quite a bit longer.


Time of year:

The COVID-19 strain of coronavirus appears to be brand new and researchers are still studying the virus. It is assumed that the illness will be most prevalent between late fall and early spring, much like the common cold or flu.


How to tell the difference:

Experts say people should look for the big three: A combination of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Unlike flu or cold, these are often the ONLY three symptoms present with a coronavirus infection.


What to do if You Feel Ill

 If you feel ill and suspect that you may have coronavirus, call your primary care physician and ask for guidance.

According to the CDC, you should:

  • Stay at home and avoid public spaces
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home
  • Wear a facemask if you are around other people
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough
  • Clean your hands often
  • Avoid sharing personal items (toothbrush, utensils, bedding, etc.)
  • Clean high-touch items often (keyboards, phones, remote controls, etc.)
  • Monitor your symptoms

If your illness gets worse (shortness of breath) call a medical professional immediately, and in the event of a medical emergency call 911.

Posted in: Health