01:18 AM

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



We’ve all been there. You feel a sore throat and cough coming on and you immediately wonder: What could this be?

By Dr. Don Liss, Chief Medical Officer

If you begin to feel under the weather and aren’t sure what your symptoms point to, you’re not alone. Many symptoms of viral illnesses, including the virus that causes COVID-19, overlap. Add allergies to the mix and it gets even more confusing. We’ll help you distinguish between symptoms of COVID-19, the seasonal flu, common colds and allergies.

But first, remember that your best protection against the far more concerning COVID-19 and seasonal flu is to be up to date with all recommended vaccinations, including the COVID-19 booster if you are eligible. Vaccinations can ease or even eliminate major symptoms. The Omicron variant has become the most transmissible form of the coronavirus to date but being fully vaccinated and up to date with a booster is still the best way to prevent serious illness and hospitalization.

Secondly, the symptoms of COVID-19, seasonal flu and the common cold may overlap significantly. The only true way to know whether you have the flu or COVID-19 is getting tested. Your health care provider remains your best source for information and advice about your specific situation. He or she will get to the bottom of your symptoms and guide you to the most appropriate next steps.

COVID-19 vs. the common cold:

Most colds start with a sore throat or runny nose followed by cough and congestion. Among vaccinated people, Omicron symptoms are similar, including a sore or scratchy throat, runny nose, and fatigue. There are also reports of night sweats and nausea among those with Omicron infections, which are not symptoms of common colds.

Experts caution that, among the unvaccinated, Omicron symptoms are very similar to previous COVID-19 variants. That means more severe symptoms, including trouble breathing and loss of smell and taste.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, such as sore throat, runny nose, fever or cough, ask your personal physician or health care provider for an evaluation, either by telehealth or in person. They will determine whether your symptoms warrant laboratory testing for COVID-19 and/or flu, or at-home testing using an over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 test.  By being careful and informed, you can address a COVID-19 or flu diagnosis in the early stages and take precautions to avoid spreading an infection to others.

A physician evaluation is particularly important for those with conditions that place them at high risk for severe COVID-19 because there are treatments available which, if started early, can significantly reduce the risk for complications. These conditions include diabetes, heart disease, COPD, asthma, obesity and any immunocompromising condition.

COVID-19 vs. seasonal flu:

Though symptoms can be similar between the two, the onset of the flu tends to be more sudden than COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), flu symptoms include fever/chills, cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, muscle aches, headaches and fatigue. Some people, especially children, may also have vomiting and diarrhea.

It’s possible to have both COVID-19 and the seasonal flu at the same time — sometimes called “flurona”— in which you could experience symptoms of both illnesses. Your personal physician can help you sort out the symptoms.

COVID-19 vs. allergies:

Seasonal allergies can be caused by exposure to allergens like mold, dust, pet dander and, especially, pollen. Unlike COVID-19, allergies often include itchiness around the eyes, nose and/or inner ear. Seasonal allergies do not include symptoms like fever, aches and pains or shortness of breath. Be sure to keep up with medications that can minimize or block allergic reactions.

Seeking COVID-19 testing

There are now more than 1,000 COVID-19 testing sites across New Jersey.  To find locations, or to see how you can get a free test kit from the State, visit the New Jersey COVID-19 Information Hub.

In addition, the Federal government has now made available home testing fits, which are free and can be ordered through a federal dedicated website

Eligible Horizon members are also covered for up to eight at-home, FDA-approved OTC COVID-19 tests every 30 days for diagnostic purposes.

COVID-19 continues to challenge our healthcare system and our resilience. By getting vaccinated and boosted and continuing to take precautions, we can weather this storm and support our neighbors and our communities.