COVID-19, the flu, the common cold or seasonal allergies? How to tell the difference between symptoms


TORONTO – No matter the year, fall tends to bring on a series of coughs and sneezes. But in 2020, we don’t just have to wonder if we’re battling a cold or seasonal allergies – the slightest cough could raise fears of COVID-19. So if you’re feeling bad, how do you really know if it’s a cold, the flu, seasonal allergies, or a sign that you’ve contracted the novel coronavirus?

Health officials are urging anyone who shows symptoms of COVID-19 or is concerned that they have been exposed to the virus to get tested.

While many seasonal conditions have symptoms similar to COVID-19, there are key differences.


The new coronavirus is a respiratory disease, so the symptoms are concentrated around the lungs. For many patients, a dry cough and fever are the most predominant symptoms.

Other symptoms include fatigue, difficulty breathing, a new loss of taste or smell, body aches and pains, and a sore throat.

Some patients have vomiting or diarrhea, but these are less common.

According to the World Health Organization, if you experience severe chest pain, severe shortness of breath, or loss of speech and movement, these are serious symptoms that require immediate medical attention.


The flu is also a respiratory illness, so it carries many of the same symptoms of COVID-19. If you think you have contracted the flu, since some of the symptoms are so similar to COVID-19, “tests may be needed to confirm a diagnosis,” says the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). United on its website. Several Canadian health officials are also suggesting taking a COVID-19 test.

Some symptoms are different. Headaches are more associated with the flu, while a new loss of taste or smell is something that would indicate COVID-19.


The common cold tends to be a much milder illness than the flu. He usually doesn’t have a fever and is more characterized by sneezing and a runny or stuffy nose.

Most people, when at rest, will recover from a cold in about seven to ten days, according to the CDC, but those with damaged immune systems can develop more serious illness.

Sneezing and a runny nose are both considered potential symptoms of COVID-19, although this is not common. The Ontario and British Columbia Self-Assessment Tools both recommend getting tested even if you only have a runny nose or sneeze. Ontario suggests contacting a physician as well.


Although sometimes referred to as “hay fever,” seasonal allergies are not triggered by any virus (or even hay in particular), but by pollen suspended in the air, usually released in the spring and fall. These allergies mainly affect the sinuses.

If your only symptom is a runny nose and you usually have seasonal allergies around this time of year, it may be best to contact a doctor for testing or use the Self-Assessment Tool. your province or territory.

Either way, the best way to be sure you don’t have the virus is to book a test. You can find provincial and territorial resources for COVID-19 testing here on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website.

For those who are currently in school or who have a job that requires them to interact with a large number of people over the course of a day (retail, catering, etc.), get tested when they feel under the weather is considered essential.

Mahima Singh graphic, graphic icons of the noun project


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