Every year as we head through autumn and winter looms just over the horizon, people start to worry about cold and flu season. With all of us stuck indoors, the winter months usually hand you more chances to get sick. This can mean coming down with something minor where you just need to have enough tissues around or it could result in being laid up for days with the flu.
This year is different, however. With this ongoing concern over the coronavirus pandemic, there is ample reason to be extra cautious if you or someone around you starts to feel ill. Not every runny nose is going to be a case of COVID-19, though. It pays to be cautious during uncertain times, but you also don’t want to make an appointment with the doctor if you don’t have to. So, how do you tell the difference between a little sniffle and something serious?
What is the Difference Between the Common Cold and other Illnesses?
During the colder months of the year, it is not uncommon for people to begin feeling ill. While we generally term illnesses as a cold or the flu based on how severe it feels, there is actually a distinct difference between the two.
COVID-19, influenza, and the common cold are all viral illnesses, though they are caused by different kinds of viruses. These viruses are easily transferred between people when someone coughs or sneezes or if you touch your face after you come into contact with surfaces that have viruses on them.
The common cold is typically a mild upper respiratory virus that lasts only a few days. Symptoms are typically mild, and people normally recover quickly. Influenza often affects your digestive tract as well, causing diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. The effects of the novel coronavirus are not yet fully understood, but patients often experience flu-like symptoms, but with the addition of temporarily impared cognition, and fluid build-up in the lungs that can be life threatening.
What are the Symptoms of the Common Cold?
The term “common cold” is a catch-all designation for anything that causes us to experience a well-known and dreaded set of symptoms including:
- sore throat
- low-grade fever
- runny nose
- sinus congestion
The common cold itself is a viral infection caused by any of a number of strains of the rhinovirus. This virus typically enters the body through the nose, mouth, or eyes. Often those are the parts of the body that will experience the most pronounced symptoms of a cold.
Is Runny Nose a Symptom of the Coronavirus Disease?
Coronavirus shares many symptoms with the common cold, seasonal allergies, and even the regular flu. This includes a runny nose, sore throat, chills, and body aches. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a list of the major symptoms of COVID-19, which can be found below:
- 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
As you can see, some of these are associated with relatively benign run-ins with the common cold or even a rough bout of seasonal allergies. So, how are you supposed to know the difference? The only official answer is through COVID-19 testing.
During this time of increased concern over personal and public health, it is important to take precautions if you are feeling ill. Staying at home and limiting exposure to others is especially important when you first start feeling ill. Since only a COVID-19 test can confirm for sure whether you have the disease or not, until you know, it is better to play it safe.
Beyond isolating yourself and checking with friends, family, and other contacts to see if you have come into close contact with someone else who may have tested positive, the next thing to be on the lookout for are the more severe and unique symptoms of coronavirus that are more concerning. These include:
- trouble breathing
- persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- new confusion
- inability to wake or stay awake
- bluish lips or face
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately. These symptoms, especially the persistent pain and pressure in the chest, are not typically associated with the common cold, and are a symptom of COVID-19.
How is COVID-19 Different from Allergies?
Allergies and COVID-19 are very different, though initial symptoms can be quite similar in some cases. Allergies, or allergic rhinitis, are an over-reaction caused by your immune system to allergens in your environment like dust mites, mold, or pet dander. The coronavirus, as the name suggests, is a viral infection caused by coming into viral spores from another infected person. While seasonal allergies may be annoying, the coronavirus is a systemic infection that can lead to serious, debilitating symptoms, and even death.
Seasonal allergies are something of a different matter. Allergies can be very disruptive to your normal routine, but often the most serious consequences occur when allergies lead to sinus infections. The good news is, finding relief from allergies is often easier than people might think.
Rather than simply suffering through hayfever or other allergies every year, it is possible to get tested to see what it is you are having an allergic reaction to. At TrustCare, we maintain a state of the art testing facility that can help you quickly determine what you might be allergic to.
How Do You Treat the Sniffles?
It doesn’t take very long for a persistent post-nasal drip to become extremely annoying. Even if you have no other symptoms of a cold or allergies, a runny nose alone can be enough to drive you crazy. Thankfully, there are a number of over-the-counter treatments that can provide relief.
Treatments for nasal congestion are going to involve taking antihistamines and decongestants to help reduce the swelling and mucous production in your sinuses. This can also help alleviate other cold and allergy symptoms like the sniffling and sneezes that can linger long after the aches and fever of a cold have subsided. Taking ibuprofen for aches and pains is also a common part of treating a cold. There is also a range of home remedies to temporarily alleviate particular symptoms.
If you find that your symptoms are not responding to over-the-counter treatments, it may be worth talking to your healthcare provider. It is possible you have developed a sinus infection, which may take stronger drugs such as antibiotic nasal sprays to clear up. Typically a sinus infection can be diagnosed by your primary care doctor in a short office visit.
Testing and Treatment During COVID-19
If you are normally healthy and only occasionally run into a few little sniffles, it is probably not something you need to seek immediate medical attention for. If you are concerned that you may have something more serious than the common cold, but don’t want to risk exposing anyone else to whatever you have contracted, TrustCare offers telehealth services that allow you to get the care and advice you need without leaving your home.
The most important thing to do if you start experiencing symptoms of a cold is to isolate yourself as much as possible. You may also want to get a COVID-19 test if you begin to have worrying symptoms or discover you were in contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
At TrustCare, we are here to serve you with COVID-19 testing at our several urgent care clinics every day of the week as well as by appointment at our dedicated COVID-19 Testing Clinic. If you want to know more about getting tested for coronavirus, you can learn more online.