Is it Coronavirus, the Flu, or Allergies?

June 9, 2020
Is it coronavirus, the flu, or just seasonal allergies? Given that the symptoms of coronavirus are similar to both, it's logical for people to ask what differences there are with other viral illnesses.

The spread of coronavirus throughout the world, with COVID-19 strain, has the planet on alert. Around the globe, people are asking themselves how to tell the difference between coronavirus and other conditions. The big question is, is it coronavirus, the flu, or allergies?

The increase in the number of cases is already over 200,000 infected individuals. This is testing the abilities of health services to respond adequately. Since the virus spreads rapidly, it’s filling hospital beds at an alarming rate.

The protocol differs according to each case: Suspected cases, cases where individuals must isolate, patients that require hospitalization, and those who can continue home isolation. We must remember that, even though they don’t appear on the news, other illnesses continue to exist, including the flu and allergies.

Today we’re going to take a more detailed look at the signs of each scenario in order to have a general panorama to serve as a guide. After reading today’s article, you’ll be better able to answer the question, is it a coronavirus, the flu, or allergies?

The symptoms of coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the current COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic. The three symptoms that characterize this infection are:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue

In some cases, patients have experienced diarrhea, abdominal pain, odynophagia–sore throat–and rhinorrhoea–a runny nose. As we can see, the symptoms are quite unspecific and it’s easy to confuse them with other pathologies. It’s also true that not all patients that test positive for COVID-19 display all of the symptoms.

The symptoms of coronavirus are unspecific and can be confused with the flu.

Keep reading: Common Myths about Coronavirus

Symptoms of the flu

The flu is an illness caused by the influenza virus and its strains. Cases of the flu that repeat every year have to do with the seasonal flu that comes along with cold weather. At the same time, every once in a while, occasional epidemics appear due to mutations of the flu virus, as was the case with the H1N1 virus (swine flu).

The symptoms of seasonal flu are the following:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath

Tiredness and fatigue are also very characteristic of the flu virus. With the flu, our bodies have serious difficulties in carrying out daily activities, or even getting out of bed. The flu forces us to rest, even when we’d like to carry on with our normal everyday lives.

Allergy symptoms

Respiratory allergies that many suffer during the fall and spring are much milder than those of the flu and coronavirus. What’s more, they tend to be located in the upper respiratory system. Allergies, besides affecting the nose, also affect a person’s eyes.

The signs that tend to point to allergies can include the following:

  • Rhinorrhoea  – runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Erythema on the tip of the nose: This refers to the reddish color due to irritation.

It’s worth pointing out that the symptoms are mild, but persistent. Although a dry cough may appear in the form of sudden spasms, they don’t take on the same intensity as they do with the flu, for example. And in no way do the tiredness and fatigue compare to that which a person with viral infection experiences.

A woman with allergies.
The symptoms of rhinitis are concentrated in the upper respiratory apparatus.

Discover more: The Causes of Allergic Reactions and Allergy Symptoms

Is it coronavirus, the flu, or seasonal allergies?

First of all, the flu and coronavirus have similar symptoms and their intensity is similar as well. This makes it difficult to differentiate between one virus and the other. The point of dissidence is what’s known as the epidemiological nexus.

The epidemiological nexus refers to having been in contact with an infected individual. Therefore, in order to suspect coronavirus, there must have been some point of contact with a person with fever, for example, with COVID-19. This may be because the person traveled to a geographical region where the virus is circulating, or because he or she spent time with someone who tested positive.

In regards to allergies, it’s much easier to establish the difference. The symptoms tend to be mild and located on the face, without a systemic effect. What’s more, they are a response to specific stimuli, such as the season–spring or fall–and the presence of certain substances in the environment.

If doubt exists, a doctor will always have the final say. It’s important to consult with a professional to dispel any doubts, especially in the case of fever. Some tests available in health centers can quickly identify coronavirus.

And remember, just because it isn’t coronavirus, but rather seasonal flu, that doesn’t make it less serious. For patients who have a weakened immune system, or who have a chronic illness, influenza is just as dangerous as coronavirus, if not more so. Therefore, in either case, at-risk patients require rigorous treatment.

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  • Carrara, Carolina. “Características de los pacientes infectados por el coronavirus 2019 en China y dinámica de su transmisión temprana.” (2020).
  • Izquierdo, Laura Díez. INFORME TÉCNICO Nuevo coronavirus 2019-nCoV. Diss. Instituto de Salud Carlos III, 2020.
  • Zozaya García, Alain, et al. “Rinitis alérgica: tiempo de mejoría de síntomas con inmunoterapia en pacientes mexicanos y revisión de la literatura.” Alergia, Asma e Inmunología Pediátricas 28.1 (2019): 8-17.