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Medical Minute: Cold, allergies, flu or COVID? Beacon physician outlines key differences for parents


Dr. Jason Marker, Associate Director
Memorial Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program

It’s that time of year again when families in my practice are asking me questions about how to sort out the major differences between the common cold, COVID-19, RSV, allergies and even influenza. So we’re going to unpack that today real quickly, but I want to start with two key points.

If you or someone in your family has symptoms of these things, it’s worth not going to work, not being at school, and having a conversation with your doctor’s office and making a plan for how you’re going to sort these out from one another.

Likewise, for the fully vaccinated people watching this, it’s important to get a COVID-19 test when you have some of the symptoms of all of these, just depending on the situation. Don’t hesitate to push for that as you’re talking with your doctor’s office.

OK, so here we go…

The common cold is typically characterized by no fever, or a very low grade fever, that comes on over a few days. Sore throat, runny nose, maybe some head pressure, eventually some cough might happen. It’s a milder illness and it doesn’t have this high fever.

Influenza usually hits you like a ton of bricks over a few hours. You get really achy all over and fever and cough, but usually not a lot of head symptoms and not the loss of smell and taste that typically comes along with COVID-19, which can look a lot like influenza, of course.

Allergies, of course, happen during allergy season. They’re usually characterized by that tickle in the back of the throat, sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, a clear runny nose, and is different than the other ones we’ve been talking about.

RSV for an adult is just going to be like the common cold exactly, but for our kids it causes usually the worst runny nose that you’re ever going to see out of your kid. That’s kind of its hallmark.

Take good care of yourself. Talk to your doctor’s office about sorting these out if you have these symptoms. Make sure that you’re staying home from work and getting that COVID-19 test if it seems reasonable to sort that out as one of the options.

Take care of yourself and thanks for watching.