Allergies, Cold, Flu + COVID-19 – Sorting through the Symptoms

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For many of you, autumn signals the arrival of pumpkin spice lattes, apple picking and fall colors. For others, like those of us in health care, this time of year has long been dubbed the “sick season” with allergies, colds and influenza lurking right around the corner. Complicating the scene this fall, of course, is the ongoing presence of COVID-19.

Although many of the symptoms are similar, there are also several differences. The graph above can be a useful tool to help distinguish whether your particular ailment is due to COVID-19 or something else. It’s important to note, however, that although something like loss of taste or smell is common with COVID-19, it’s not always present.

A couple of other distinctions that have been reported and I’ve noticed in patients include the following:

  • COVID-19 is generally a more gradual onset with symptoms developing over the course of 2-3 days.
  • With the corona virus, a person typically develops symptoms around 5 days after exposure, but it can take as few as 2 days or as long as 14. With the flu, most people experience symptoms 1-4 days after infection.
  • In the absence of a fever, upper respiratory symptoms (those that stay above the neck) are most commonly due to allergies or the common cold.

With all that said, these illnesses can overlap and masquerade. So what’s a person to do this fall?

To start, if you can, get your flu shot and do so sooner vs later (ideally before the end of October). While you’re at it, encourage everyone you know to do the same! We are offering flu shots for members AND non-members at LBMD & Associates. (If interested, call 616-345-LBMD to schedule.)

By now, we should all be familiar with the importance of mask wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene.

Get a jump on treating seasonal allergies. If you know they’re inevitable, stock up on your medications and start them early to ward off symptoms or at least keep them at bay.

If you don’t have a thermometer, invest in one now. This is going to be important in making the distinction between what’s likely to be a mild case of allergies or a cold versus a potentially more serious infection with Influenza or COVID-19. (And while we’re talking about it, the definition of a fever is a temperature at or above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. 😉)

Besides graphics like the one shared in today’s post, there are also several online resources to help you sort through symptoms. Check out the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker or this one put together by Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Feel sick? Then STAY HOME! Uncertain if you should stay home? STAY HOME. Still uncertain? Call your HCP (health care provider) and they will likely tell you to STAY HOME (or possibly come for a visit or COVID test).

Speaking of your HCP, if you don’t have one, now is the time. Having an established relationship with a primary care provider while you’re healthy can help ensure you are able to be seen if/when you get sick.

And finally, when in doubt, reach out for help. These are challenging times, friends, and it’s okay to be confused or even scared. We’re here to answer questions, provide reassurance and, of course, provide high quality care if and when it’s needed. Don’t worry friends….We’ve got your back!

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