Here’s a look at common symptoms of COVID-19, the flu, a cold, and allergies.
A runny nose, facial pain, postnasal drip, and itchy eyes are common symptoms of allergies or the common cold.
But itchy eyes and facial pain are not typical symptoms of COVID-19.
“The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough,” according to the
“In a report from China of more than 1,000 patients, nasal congestion was seen in only 1 out of every 20 patients,” Dr. Kristine S. Arthur, an internist at MemorialCare Medical Group in Laguna Woods, California, told Healthline.
However, some research suggests that COVID-19 symptoms have changed as the disease mutates and affects different populations.
Sneezing, for example, was once considered a rarer symptom of a COVID-19 infection. Now, it ranks among the most common symptoms.
COVID-19 symptoms usually appear 2 to 14 days after exposure — a window that can be wider than is typical for the flu, which usually presents symptoms within 1 to 4 days of transmission.
- fever or chills
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- muscle or body aches
- new loss of taste or smell
- sore throat
- congestion or runny nose
- nausea or vomiting
Some people who develop a COVID-19 infection don’t have any symptoms or feel unwell. Nevertheless, these people can still transmit the coronavirus to people around them.
COVID-19, like the flu or common cold, is an acute illness, meaning people feel fine until symptoms start showing up.
Allergies, on the other hand, “are usually chronic, presenting with symptoms off and on for weeks, months, or even years,” Dr. David M. Cutler, family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline.
“Allergies should not cause a fever or body aches,” Arthur said. “Generally, [there is] no cough unless you have a lot of nasal drainage.”
Conversely, itchy eyes and facial pain are more typical of allergies than a COVID-19 infection.
Allergies may also cause wheezing, she said, especially in people with asthma.
“Allergy symptoms tend to vary with the environment: worsening with exposure to dust, pollen, or animal dander, whereas cold symptoms tend to persist regardless of time of day, weather, locality, or other environmental factors,” Cutler said.
Also, as with COVID-19, “colds are more likely to have generalized symptoms like fever, headache, and body aches, whereas allergies usually affect only the respiratory tract,” Cutler said.
“Allergy symptoms tend to improve with antihistamine and other allergy-specific medication,” he said. “Colds are more likely to respond to decongestants, acetaminophen, fluids, and rest.”
The agency said that things such as shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue, headache, and sore throat can be symptoms of either COVID-19 or allergies.
But fever, muscle aches, a loss of taste or smell, nausea, and diarrhea are associated with COVID-19 and not allergies.
COVID-19 is not the flu.
As one of a class of pathogens known as coronaviruses, COVID-19 is actually more closely related to the common cold than the seasonal flu.
However, despite some overlap, the typical symptoms of COVID-19 are more similar to the flu (fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue) than the common cold (runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, congestion, slight body aches, mild headache, sneezing, low-grade fever, malaise).
The Delta variant, however, may have more cold-like symptoms.
“In terms of differentiating between flu and COVID-19, it can be almost impossible to distinguish,” Dr. Jake Deutsch, co-founder and clinical director of Cure Urgent Care and Specialty Infusion in New York. “That’s why people are recommended to have flu vaccinations so it can at least… minimize the risk of flu in light of everything else.”
“Fevers, body aches, coughing, sneezing could all be equally attributed to them both, so it really means that if there’s a concern for flu, there’s a concern for COVID-19,” Deutsch said.
When and where you get sick might be the best predictor of whether you have a cold, the flu, or COVID-19, Yildirim said.
People living in communities with low vaccination rates and high rates of COVID-19 “are more likely to have COVID-19,” she said, especially outside of cold and flu season.
However, she said, differentiating becomes more difficult during the winter, when all three diseases may be widespread.
If you have a mild case of COVID-19, the flu, or a cold, treatment is geared toward management of symptoms, said Cutler.
“Generally, acetaminophen is recommended for fevers,” he said. “Cough drops and cough syrups can also help keep mucous secretions thinner. If there is associated nasal congestion, antihistamines may be useful.”
Another good reason to get a flu shot is that it may help protect against severe COVID-19 symptoms like sepsis, stroke, and deep vein thrombosis, according to research from the Netherlands published in the journal PLoS One.
Also, some infectious disease experts worry that because so few people got flu infections during the 2020-21 flu season, weak natural immunity rates could cause a surge in flu infections during the 2021-22 flu season.
Mild cases of COVID-19 are thought to last approximately 2 weeks, said Cutler.
“Fortunately, the vast majority of cases are mild,” he said.
That’s particularly true if you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Almost nobody dies from the common cold. And most seasonal allergies are more annoying than dangerous.
Influenza, however, causes between
COVID-19 can cause more serious illness, especially among unvaccinated people, although treatments have improved in the past year. An estimated 97 percent of people hospitalized with COVID-19 disease are unvaccinated, but a study from the United Kingdom found that just 0.5 percent of COVID-19 deaths were among vaccinated individuals.
Severe symptoms of COVID-19 that require immediate medical attention include:
- difficulty breathing
- persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- confusion or inability to arouse
- bluish lips or face
Bluish lips or face indicates a shortage of oxygen in the bloodstream.
Among people who develop COVID-19 symptoms, around
“People ages 60 years and over, and people with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart and lung problems, diabetes, obesity or cancer, are at higher risk of developing serious illness,” the WHO said.