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Is it allergies, a cold or COVID? Beacon doctor offers guidance if you’re not feeling well

If you’ve got a cough, runny nose, itchy eyes or sore throat right now, you’re not alone.

And with COVID cases slowly ticking upward across the country, although nowhere near pandemic levels, many people are wondering if they should be worried.

“There are so many things that can cause those symptoms,” said Johnny Gerardot, MD, a family physician at Beacon Medical Group Main Street in Granger.

“Allergies are common. Smoke from the Canadian wildfires can irritate the eyes and throat. Summer colds are still making the rounds,” Dr. Gerardot said.

The real question, however, is not whether the culprit is COVID, but whether you’re feeling allergy symptoms or have signs of a respiratory virus infection.

How do you tell the difference?

Rules of thumb

Dr. Johnny Gerardot

Allergies generally don’t cause a fever; instead they cause more of a histamine response. Histamines are released when the body comes into contact with an allergen, and they’re responsible for symptoms like itchy or watery eyes, a runny nose, a tickle in the throat and sneezing.

On the other hand, a temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, chills, sweating, fatigue and body aches occur more commonly with a respiratory virus.

If your symptoms sound more like a virus, your primary care provider can test you for specific viruses like COVID. Why test? Because how sick you feel is not a good indicator of what is wrong, Dr. Gerardot said.

“You can still get pretty sick and feel lousy, even if it’s not COVID,” he said.

Dr. Gerardot, who is always happy to see a patient if they’re not feeling right, explains how nurses can also talk to you about your symptoms when you call the office for an appointment.

An at-home COVID test can be useful, he said, because the results will help the provider’s office determine your next steps.

If you are experiencing more urgent symptoms like wheezing or chest pain, your family doctor may advise you to go to the hospital rather than his or her office. For mild symptoms, a virtual or telehealth visit may be the ideal solution — not to mention the most convenient when you don’t feel like going anywhere.

Meanwhile, you can take some simple precautions to protect others, whether you have caught a cold or contracted COVID.

With any virus, frequent handwashing is a good idea, especially on the days when your symptoms are bothering you most. For a virus, you will usually feel the worst between days three to five. Wearing a mask can help protect others from catching your illness.

If it turns out that you have COVID, Dr. Gerardot said it’s best to hunker down.

“For the first five days of sickness, you should really try to isolate during that time,” Dr. Gerardot said. “And wear a mask around others for 10 to 14 days, even at home.”

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