Allergies, cold, flu or COVID? Here’s how to tell the difference

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The common cold is a viral infection of the nose and throat that causes various symptoms like sore throat, runny nose, headaches, cough, and low fever. Many viruses can lead to the common cold, and most healthy people recover from a cold in six to 10 days.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Fall marks the start to cold and flu season. 

With COVID looming in the Inland Northwest, doctors say it can be hard to tell if that scratchy throat and cough are just a seasonal sickness or something more serious. 

So, how can you tell the difference and when is it time to get tested for COVID? 

“Any symptom can be COVID, and so that’s been a very common motivation or drive to come in and be seen, and be tested,” said Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center’s Dr. Robert Lichfield. 

But, it could be allergies or a cold, too. 

Allergies tend to last longer, you usually will not have a fever, nor will you have body aches or chills. You’ll tend to be congested and have an itchy throat. 

A common cold often includes a runny nose, cough and almost always, fatigue. You can develop a fever, but it is not quite as common. 

“People describe it as it hits them like a ton of bricks, and they’re quite ill with influenza. Almost always fever, terrible body aches and chills and shakes,” Lichfield said. 

With more people wearing masks or stuck at home, flu cases dropped dramatically in 2020. 

“This year, there is some flu brewing in the midwest and in some places in the country, but really not raging per say,” Lichfield said. “I’m expecting some flu this year, but hopefully not a bad flu season.” 

Lichfield recommends anyone who has COVID symptoms get tested. Doctors say they tend to normally see a surge in respiratory illnesses after the holiday season. 

“Enjoy the holidays safely, wear a mask, distance and I think a big piece of us getting through this pandemic is going to be to hang together and do our best to help each other not get sick,” Lichfield said. 

If you have not gotten the COVID or flu shot, Lichfield says now is the time to do it. 

COVID vaccines are available for everyone five years and older. 

RELATED: Here’s how to get a free at-home COVID-19 test in Spokane 

READ: Need your COVID vaccine card? The Washington Dept. of Health can send it straight to your phone