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Is it flu, COVID-19, a cold or allergies?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, symptoms like fever, a scratchy throat, runny nose or cough may not have given much cause for concern. Now, every symptom is suspect as we question ourselves - is it flu, COVID-19, a cold or allergies?

This time of year often brings a host of respiratory illnesses and ailments. The diagnosis and treatment depend on the source of the symptoms.

In the case of a cold, flu or COVID-19, the illness is caused by harmful bacteria or viruses. The immune system strikes at these invaders, which have the potential to harm the body.

With allergies, the body mistakes a harmless material, such as pollen or dust, for a dangerous intruder. It then launches an attack that results in symptoms associated with allergies.

While colds are usually just inconvenient, COVID-19 and flu can cause life-threatening complications, especially for high risk groups . Allergies can also be serious and sometimes lead to chronic respiratory diseases, like asthma.


Unfortunately, many respiratory illnesses have the same symptoms, such as:

  • Cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Congestion
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

Flu and COVID-19 may also cause fever, body aches, nausea and vomiting.

Two symptoms unique to COVID-19 are shortness of breath/difficulty breathing and a new loss of taste or smell.

Learn more about the difference between allergies and colds here.
Compare your symptoms.


In order to accurately diagnose your condition and plan for appropriate treatment, it is important for you to consult with your health care provider. Many people will experience mild symptoms from flu, COVID-19 and colds and recover on their own.

For those sick with flu, a health care provider may prescribe anti-virals to lessen the severity of the illness. It's important to know the warning signs of complications and seek medical attention right away if necessary.

For colds, a nutritious diet and time are often the best treatments. Sometimes, over-the-counter medicines and antibiotics can be used to treat cold-like symptoms.

Although there is no cure for allergies, there are many treatment options available, including medication that can decrease symptoms and prevent infections.

Once your respiratory illness is identified, prevention measures (link to 8 Things to do to stop the flu) should also focus on reducing exposure, when possible, to the allergens, viruses or bacteria that cause your symptoms.

Check out the Center for Disease Control's Coronavirus Symptom Checker to see how your symptoms measure up. Or, use this chart (link to symptoms graphic) to compare your symptoms.

North Oaks Health System can help you navigate the upcoming respiratory season. To locate the clinic convenient to you, click here. You also may call North Oaks Physician Group at (985) 230-APPT [2778] or (844) APPT-NOW [277-8669]for an appointment.

For more articles about this year's flu season, please visit our Flu Season blog.