Not all that glitters is gold, nor is all discomfort covid-19 symptom. But in these times it is even normal to try to associate any trace of disease with a possible SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection. Differentiating covid-19 from the flu, a cold, sore throat, an allergy attack or accumulated fatigue after a bad day is not always easy. Hence, in case of doubt, always recommend seeing a healthcare professional.
If the diagnoses are already convoluted in themselves, in the case of covid-19, one more complication must be added. A great percentage of patients diagnosed with this infection no symptoms, according to various reports from the Ministry of Health. So now we not only have to be aware of the symptoms that appear, but we also have to take into account the possible risk contacts that we have had in the previous days.
In the event that symptoms appear, the definitive diagnosis should be guided by the intervention of a health professional and, of course, by everyone’s common sense. here some clues to differentiate between a case of covid-19, flu, cold or allergy.
Coronavirus or flu? No PCR, complicated
Much of the doubts that arise these days have to do with the difference between covid-19 and the common flu. Especially now that coronavirus cases are sprouting all over the world and that the seasonal flu is at the door. “These are contagious respiratory diseases caused by different viruses but clinically they can become confused”, explains Dr. Antonio Lalueza, internist and member of the Infectious Diseases Working Group of the Spanish Society of Internal Medicine (SEMI). Both covid-19 and the flu can cause fever, cough, tiredness, sore throat, muscle pain, headache, diarrhea and breathing problems. “In both cases, the disease can have a different severity that would range from asymptomatic or mild cases to the most serious conditions that require hospitalization,” the doctor clarifies.
Since many of these symptoms are similar, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two conditions based on these signs of general malaise alone. “The symptoms can give some indications, as well as knowing if the patient has been exposed to a risk situation or in contact with someone positive. but all these suspicions only confirm with a PCR”, explains the doctor Sonia Miravet, deputy secretary of the Col·legi de Metges de Barcelona (COMB) and family doctor at EAP Martorell Rural. Diagnostic tests, in fact, are the most effective method to distinguish between these diseases.
Seen from a laboratory, viruses are different. The common flu, the one that arrives every year on these dates, is due to the viruses of the influenza (a pathogen that, in turn, sheds seasonally). Covid-19, on the other hand, originates from the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Both microorganisms are transmitted by air (through droplets that are expelled when breathing, coughing or speaking) and, once they land on their host, they trigger an infection (which may or may not lead to the cascade of symptoms mentioned above). mentioned).
Among so many similarities between viruses and their effects on the human body, there is a symptom that could indicate a case of covid-19; the loss of taste and smell (also known as anosmia and dysgeusia). “Alterations in taste and smell, even prior to fever, can make us suspect a coronavirus infection,” argues Miravet. Although, once again, it must be remembered that this symptom by itself does not offer a definitive diagnosis.
Covid-19 or cold? The snot trail
The arrival of the cold also brings back the common colds, flus and constipation typical of this time. These are also caused by a viral infection caused (normally) by a rhinovirus (and not by the cold itself, as explained by the doctor and scientific communicator Esther Samper in ‘If it stings, it heals’). The pathogen responsible for this discomfort, then, is different. And the course of the disease, too.
The most typical symptoms of colds are sneezing, congestion, and runny nose. This discomfort, in principle, does not usually appear in cases of coronavirus infection. So a runny nose, and the body ailment left by a common cold (which we’ve all been through), might help focus the diagnosis.
Nor should we forget that cases of severe colds are usually accompanied by a impaired ability to perceive smells and tastes; something totally normal if we take into account the stuffy noses so characteristic of colds. What is the difference, then, between this symptom and the one experienced by patients with covid-19? An investigation by a European group of experts in smell disorders indicates that in cases of coronavirus infection loss of taste and smell is not accompanied by a runny nose.
Covid-19 or allergies? Context is everything
To differentiate the discomfort generated by covid-19 from the typical one that results from allergies, the context is essential. As you well know people with allergic rhinitisthere is usually a trigger that unleashes symptoms such as itchy eyes and nose, repeated sneezing, watery runny nose, and nasal congestion. So the moment in which the discomfort occurs is key to knowing what it is.
“What should make us suspect that it is an allergy is that the symptoms will intensify when the patient is outdoors and will improve markedly when they remain indoors,” they point out from the Spanish Society of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (SEAIC).
Allergy attacks also rarely cause muscle pain or fever (except in cases of acute sinusitis), while in cases of covid-19 this is one of the most recognizable symptoms. In patients who also have asthma, difficulty breathing could be confused with the first symptoms of covid. In this case, the SEAIC allergists explain, “the symptoms of asthma are usually easily reversed with the use of rescue bronchodilators.”
Covid-19 or angina? Care for sore throat
The differences between tonsils and a picture of covid-19 they are also subtle and often hard to tell apart. The tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils at the end of the throat) can start due to a viral or bacterial infection. The influenza virus can also trigger this infection, which can also cause fever, malaise and cough, among others.
In this case, the clues to differentiate between the two ailments have to do with the symptoms typically associated with angina. If he pain is focused in the throat, the voice becomes between hoarse and hoarse and, in addition, there are difficulties in swallowing, everything points to tonsillitis (since none of these symptoms is directly related to covid-19). But, as always, when in doubt, it is better to consult a health professional and start the indicated treatment.