How to Know the Difference Between a Cold, the Flu and COVID-19

How to Know the Difference Between a Cold, the Flu and COVID-19
Aug 01, 2020
Navarro Medical

Woman sneezing into a tissueThere is a lot of confusion about how to tell the difference between a cold, the flu, and the coronavirus (COVID-19). While there is so much we don’t know about COVID-19, there are some signs that can help you know if you should be tested. Use this information to determine when it may be time to contact our clinic.

Perhaps, in order to distinguish between these three viral infections, it would be best to discuss what the all have in common that could make a diagnosis confusing. Since all three are respiratory illnesses, the virus will attack the lungs and related respiratory system tissues, such as the nose, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and blood vessels. This system is responsible for the introduction of oxygen to the body, the movement of oxygen throughout the body, protection of the body from harmful particles in the air we breathe, sound production, and our sense of smell. When this system is targeted by a viral infection, any of these functions can be impacted.

COVID-19 Symptoms
The primary question people are usually asking during the COVID-19 pandemic is if their symptoms meet the criteria for the Coronavirus. Unfortunately, the answer can be unclear, depending on the presenting symptoms. For example, if you have shortness of breath, tightness in your chest, an onset of a state of confusion, an inability to stay awake, or you notice the loss of your taste or smell senses, there is reason to believe the Coronavirus may be the culprit. At this point, we recommend calling our office at (863) 949-6541 during normal business hours to discuss taking the test for COVID-19 or dialing 911 for severe symptoms.

Flu Symptoms
Although those signs are fairly clear, there are other symptoms that could be a number of respiratory illnesses, including the flu. Patients complaining of a persistent fever, nausea, vomiting, runny nose, cough, achy muscles, fatigue, loss of appetite, flush cheeks and lips, headache, sore throat, congestion, sweating, or swollen lymph nodes could be suffering from either influenza or COVID-19, among other possible causes. Again, if COVID-19 is a possibility, the only way to know for sure is to take the test. If symptoms are tolerable, contact our office during business hours to discuss the test, ask a question, or schedule an exam. For those experiencing severe symptoms, Dr. Navarro has privileges to visit patients at Lake Wales Medical Center for care continuity purposes. Therefore, there is no need to put off seeking treatment if more concerning symptoms begin while our clinic is closed. It is better to be safe and get tested than wait for more serious complications.

Why is Pneumonia a Concern?
One of those potentially life-threatening complications is pneumonia. This condition ranges from mild to severe, and can require additional tests to determine the correct course of treatment. For example, blood tests, chest x-rays, pulse oximeters, sputum tests (lung fluid samples), CT scans, and pleural fluid cultures may be used to better understand the type of infection and level of progression. In mild cases, pneumonia can clear up on its own by getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of healthy fluids. However, if you suspect you have the flu or COVID-19, be sure to contact our office with your symptoms to receive the best care plan for your medical needs.

Cold Symptoms
A cold can present a lot like the flu or COVID-19, though it will probably not include tightening of the chest, shortness of breath, vomiting, a loss of smell or taste, confusion, or a high fever. Additionally, the flu generally comes on quickly while a cold may start more subtly with a slight sore throat and runny nose before gradually worsening. If in doubt, contact our office to learn about testing options for COVID-19 or schedule an exam with Dr. Navarro.

Allergic Reactions
Another question we are often asked is regarding the difference between the symptoms of a cold and those an allergic reaction. Although the presentation can be similar, try taking a shower to see if you are able to receive some relief. If your symptoms lessen, you may be having an allergic reaction to a seasonal or newly introduced allergen, such as a pet or laundry detergent. Another sign of allergies is itchy eyes as this symptom is less likely due to a viral infection.

Therefore, while these illnesses can be similar in terms of presentation, it is important to contact your primary care physician if you believe your symptoms match that of COVID-19 or the flu. Especially with COVID-19, earlier confirmation and treatment is critical for containment and treatment purposes. For more information, call our office at (863) 949-6541 during business hours Monday through Friday from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm.

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