COVID-19, the Common Cold, Influenza or Allergies?

The flu season is when you start off in the morning with a light heart and end up in the evening with a heavy nose. – Robert Orben

Today’s blog is focusing on COVID-19, Influenza (Flu), and allergies. The focus is how to distinguish which one you may have. It is now Fall and many of us are coughing and sneezing. It is currently flu season and the temperatures are getting cooler by the day. You may be asking yourself should I really be concerned about my sniffles? This time of year, I typically have allergies due to the falling leaves and indoor dust. When the leaves are being blown and collected by landscapers in my area, I always keep my car windows closed while driving by. This year has been a little easier for me due to my mask keeping out most of these pesky allergy triggers. Despite this flu season is here with COVID-19 so to help ease our anxieties we will be looking at the differences.

I have done the work for you and I will be sharing resources from medical professionals to help demystify the differences between these four seasonal annoyances.  

If you are experiencing sudden chronic symptoms that will not go away with traditional methods (sleep, over the counter medication & soup) it is highly advisable to contact your healthcare provider.

Comparing Symptoms  

A helpful chart like this one from MultiCare is the easiest way to spot the differences.

COVID-19 vs the Flu

On the chart COVID-19 and the flu are the most severe and can be deadly.

According to the CDC, Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses. However, they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and the flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses. COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people.

COVID vs Flu Differences:

Flu viruses can cause mild to severe illness, including common signs and symptoms listed above.

Obtain medical care right away if you experience these emergency warning signs of flu.

  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Fever above 104°F
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Severe pain

COVID-19 seems to cause more serious illnesses in some people. Other signs and symptoms of COVID-19, different from flu, may include change in or loss of taste or smell.

Obtain medical care right away if you experience these emergency warning signs of COVID-19.

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

COVID vs Flu Similarities:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults

Sharing the Virus with Others

Between the Flu and COVID-19, COVID is the heavyweight concerning how contagious and severe it can be with certain populations. Both can be deadly and taken seriously.


If a person has COVID-19, they may be contagious for a longer period than if they had the flu.  

It is possible for a person to spread COVID-19 for about 2 days before experiencing signs or symptoms and remain contagious for at least 10 days after signs or symptoms first appeared. If someone is asymptomatic or their symptoms go away, it is possible for them to remain contagious for at least 10 days after testing positive.

COVID-19 is more contagious among certain populations and age groups than flu. Also, COVID-19 has been observed to have more superspreading events than flu. This means the virus that causes COVID-19 can quickly and easily spread to a lot of people.


For both COVID-19 and the flu, it is possible to spread the virus for at least 1 day before experiencing any symptoms. Both COVID-19 and flu can spread from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). Both are spread mainly by droplets made when people with the illness (COVID-19 or flu) cough, sneeze, or talk.

It may be possible that a person can get infected by physical human contact (e.g. shaking hands) or by touching a surface or object that has virus on it and then touching his or her own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

Both flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 may be spread to others by people before they begin showing symptoms, with very mild symptoms or who never developed symptoms (asymptomatic).

What Can I Do?

For starters, continue to wear a protective mask to help prevent being infected with COVID-19. There is a vaccine in development, but it is not FDA approved and immediately available.

Also, every year it is recommended to get a flu shot. Seasonal flu shots protect against the three or four influenza viruses that research suggests may be the most common during the upcoming season. The flu shot helps to reduce the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated.

There are different kinds of flu vaccines, read about them here.

Quadrivalent influenza shots are grown in eggs. This is important to know if you are allergic. Two completely egg-free (ovalbumin-free) flu vaccine options are available: quadrivalent recombinant vaccine and quadrivalent cell-based vaccine.

Influenza (flu) vaccine effectiveness (VE) can vary. The protection provided by a flu vaccine varies from season to season and depends in part on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine and the similarity or “match” between the viruses in the vaccine and those in circulation.

Life-threatening allergic reactions to flu shots are very rare.

An ounce of prevention can make a huge difference. Being aware of how to protect yourself and others is the best gift anyone can give.

Be safe and well.

Want More Information?

Common signs and symptoms of flu

Symptoms of Coronavirus Disease 2019 sneezing image

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