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Is it a cold? Flu? Allergies, or even COVID-19?: Dr. Nina Radcliff

Is it a cold? Flu? Allergies, or even COVID-19?: Dr. Nina Radcliff

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As nights grow cooler and days shorter, flu season fast approaches and this year, compounding concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts are warning of a “twindemic” — a coronavirus-flu convergence — this fall and winter. Adding to this, the viruses that cause colds also spread more easily starting around September. And then there’s fall allergy season ramping up. This year, symptoms could be confused with one another, but there are ways to know the difference.

What’s the difference?

Respiratory illness vs. allergies: Distinctive from seasonal allergies, the flu, COVID-19 and the common cold are highly contagious respiratory viruses that spread from person to person via respiratory droplets made when people with the illness breathe, talk, sneeze or cough, and the germs enter your body via eyes, nose or mouth. Additionally, touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching an entry point can cause infection.

Seasonal allergies: Seasonal allergies and COVID-19 share certain symptoms — cough, headache, sore throat and congestion. However, allergies generally don’t cause a fever, chills, body aches or nausea. Similarly, COVID-19 doesn’t cause watery eyes or sneezing.

Allergy symptoms include watery eyes, sneezing, cough, headache, sore throat and congestion.

Symptoms are caused by your body’s natural response to an allergen. During fall, allergies are often caused by mold and ragweed. Your body reacts to these allergens, releasing histamine in an effort to defend you by expelling allergens from your body or shield sensitive areas, like the soft tissue in your nose.

If you don’t usually have fall allergies and you are experiencing some of the shared COVID-19 symptoms, you should quarantine and contact your doctor.

Respiratory illnesses: It’s more important now in our COVID-19 world to contact your doctor if you think you have one of these respiratory viruses. Even if you feel you are OK, your healthcare provider can guide you to ensure proper care and any actions to take (if testing is warranted) to confirm a diagnosis and disease transmission tracking in your community.

COVID-19: This new coronavirus can cause a number of symptoms, ranging from none, known as asymptomatic, to severe. When symptoms arise, they usually appear two to 14 days after you’re exposed to the virus.

Symptoms include fever or chills, dry cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.

Most who are infected recover at home, taking care with rest, hydration, over-the-counter medications; staying home (designate someone to run errands or order delivery); monitoring symptoms; avoiding the sharing of personal household items (dishes, drinking glasses, eating utensils, towels, bedding), cleaning all high-touch surfaces every day, and separating from other people and pets as much as possible. That includes staying in a specific room and using a separate bathroom. Wear a mask and adhere to excellent hand hygiene and other disinfecting protocols to prevent spread within your home.

Emergency medical attention should be sought when you have any warning signs: trouble breathing, persistent pain/pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake/stay awake or bluish lips/face or any other severe condition (this list is not exhaustive).

Common cold: A viral infection that affects your nose and throat, it often has a gradual onset and is restricted to the upper respiratory tract.

Symptoms include sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, congestion and sore throat. Some may experience a low-grade fever, slight body aches, mild headache or malaise (the medical term for unwell).

Fortunately, common colds do not typically result in serious health problems.

Flu: A viral infection of the upper respiratory and/or lower respiratory system, influenza viruses cause the flu and usually cause more serious symptoms in the respiratory system than cold-causing viruses. The flu can become an intense and potentially fatal illness (pneumonia) in some individuals.

Symptoms are often abrupt in onset and include fever/feeling feverish, chills, muscle/body aches, fatigue/weakness, chest discomfort or cough and headache.

Severe flu may have symptoms that develop rapidly and require supportive care. Doctors diagnose the flu based on clinical symptoms and by available lab tests.

Those at higher risk for flu-related complications (less than 12 months of age, 65 years or older, pregnant, chronic medical condition) may get prescribed an antiviral medication.

Most people with the flu are contagious for about a day before they show symptoms and remain contagious for about a week.

Vaccines are available to help in prevention and reduce the seriousness of the illness.

Doing your part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has bonus benefits for all. A tight-woven mask, properly worn over the mouth and nose, helps reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets, protecting the wearer and others around from the flu, the common cold; and preventing pollen and mold spores from getting into the respiratory system. Stay vigilant!

Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions for Dr. Nina to editor@pressofac.com with “Dr. Nina” in the subject line.

This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional.

Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author.

Email questions for Dr. Nina to editor@pressofac.com with “Dr. Nina” in the subject line.

This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional.

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