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Is it a Bad cold, Allergies or COVID-19?

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COVID-19, the common cold, seasonal allergies and the flu have many similar signs and symptoms. Find out about some of the important differences between these illnesses.

We have come to realise the SARS-CoV-2 virus cannot be eradicated or eliminated. For the foreseeable future—in our lifetime, our children’s lifetime, and our grandchildren’s lifetime—COVID is going to be part of life. 

With South Africa going into winter and the Omicron variant which is spreading quickly and causing increasing Covid cases, how to know if you have Covid, cold, allergies or the flu? We hope to shed light on the differences between these, what the signs & symptoms are and how you can protect yourself.

What is the difference between COVID-19 and the common cold?

Both COVID-19 and the common cold are caused by viruses. COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, while the common cold is most often caused by rhinoviruses. These viruses spread in similar ways and cause many of the same signs and symptoms. However, there are a few differences.

While COVID-19 symptoms generally appear two to 14 days after exposure to SARS-CoV-2, symptoms of a common cold usually appear one to three days after exposure to a cold-causing virus. There is no cure for the common cold. Treatment may include pain relievers and over the counter cold remedies, such as decongestants. Unlike COVID-19, a cold is usually harmless. Most people recover from a common cold in three to 10 days, although some colds may last as long as two or three weeks.

What’s the difference between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies?

Unlike COVID-19, seasonal allergies are not caused by a virus. Seasonal allergies are immune system responses triggered by exposure to allergens, such as seasonal tree or grass pollens.

COVID-19 and seasonal allergies cause many of the same signs and symptoms. However, there are some differences. While COVID-19 can cause shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, seasonal allergies do not usually cause these symptoms unless you have a respiratory condition such as asthma that can be triggered by pollen exposure.

Treatment of seasonal allergies may include over the counter or prescription antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays and decongestants, and avoidance of exposure to allergens where possible. Seasonal allergies may last several weeks.

What is the difference between COVID-19 and the flu?

COVID-19 and the flu are both contagious respiratory diseases caused by viruses. COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, while the flu is caused by influenza A and B viruses. These viruses spread in similar ways.

COVID-19 and the flu cause similar symptoms. The diseases can also cause no symptoms or mild or severe symptoms. Because of the similarities, it can be hard to diagnose which condition you have based on symptoms alone. Testing may be done to see if you have COVID-19 or the flu. You can also have both diseases at the same time. However, there are some differences.

COVID-19 symptoms generally appear two to 14 days after exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Flu symptoms usually appear about one to four days after exposure to an influenza virus.

COVID-19 can cause more-serious illnesses in some people than the flu. Also, COVID-19 can cause different complications than the flu, such as blood clots and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.

While there is only one antiviral treatment for COVID-19, there are several antiviral drugs that can be used to treat the flu. Also, you can get an annual flu vaccine to help reduce your risk of the flu. The flu vaccine can also reduce the severity of the flu and the risk of serious complications. The vaccine can be given as a shot or as a nasal spray.

Do a Symptom check: Is it COVID-19, common cold, allergies or the flu?

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Prevention and Treatment

Is a change of taste & smell still important? This was one of the three key Covid symptoms identified during the first two years of the pandemic but it appears to be much less common with Omicron infections.

According to the ZOE Covid symptom app., the most common five symptoms experienced by people with positive Covid tests recently are:

  • runny nose (83%)
  • fatigue (71%)
  • sore throat (69%)
  • headache (69%)
  • sneezing (68%)
  • Coronavirus loss of smell: Meat tastes like petrol

How to tell if you have a fever or high temperature? A high temperature is 37.8C or above and can happen when the body is fighting off any infection – not just coronavirus.

If you don’t have a thermometer, check if you – or the person you’re worried about – feel hot to the touch on the chest or back.

A high temperature is unlikely with a cold.

How do I know when to stay at home? If you have any of the above symptoms plus a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to carry out normal activities, you are advised to stay at home.

You should avoid contact with other people, in particular those who are at high risk of becoming seriously unwell if they get Covid.

If you test for Covid and do have a positive result, you should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days after the day you took your test. Many people will no longer be infectious after five days but some may still be able to pass on the virus for up to 10 days.

Other Precautions

How to reduce the spread in my household?

The advice is to try to keep your distance from people you live with, particularly those whose immune system is weaker than normal. You can also open windows in rooms for 10 minutes after someone with symptoms has left. Cleaning frequently touched surfaces such as door handles and remote controls can protect people in your house from Covid and other viruses.

What if I have to leave home?

If you cannot stay at home while you feel unwell, you can reduce the chances of passing on the infection you have by:

  • wearing a well-fitting face mask
  • avoiding crowded places such as public transport or large indoor gatherings
  • taking exercise outdoors
  • covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and washing your hands frequently

What if I am worried about my symptoms?

Most people can be treated for Covid at home, as with any other mild respiratory illness. You should get plenty of rest and drink water to keep hydrated.

You can take paracetamol to relieve headaches and muscle aches or pains, but antibiotics won’t work against viral infections like Covid.

If you are having trouble breathing, contact your doctor, or call emergency services on 112

Also, consider boosting your immune system so that the symptoms are not that severe and you can recover quicker.

Balanced Healing offers infusion therapy and vitamin booster packs to assist with prevention and or treatment.


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