How to Tell if You Have COVID-19, a Cold, Allergies, Strep Throat, Bronchitis, the Flu, or a Sinus Infection

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a simple sore throat usually wouldn’t be much cause for concern. Since the onset of the pandemic, however, feeling the slightest bit under the weather automatically makes people wonder if they contracted COVID-19, or if it’s something less serious like a cold, allergies, strep throat, bronchitis, the flu, or a sinus infection. Learn about the similarities and differences between COVID-19 and these more common ailments. If you suspect you have COVID-19, stop by a PhysicianOne urgent care near you for a rapid PCR test so you can start treatment right away.

The Difference Between Strep Throat & COVID-19

Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. COVID-19, on the other hand, is a respiratory virus caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (also referred to as “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” or “SARS-CoV-2”).

Strep Throat Symptoms vs. COVID-19 Symptoms

In addition to a sore throat, strep throat and COVID-19 can produce many of the same symptoms, including:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Vomiting

Each of these illnesses also produces its own unique set of symptoms, which is what you need to be on the lookout for to determine if you have strep throat, COVID-19, or something else. For example, if you notice any of the following, there’s a good chance that you have strep throat rather than COVID-19:

  • Pain when swallowing
  • Swollen red tonsils (in some cases, with streaks of pus or white patches)
  • Tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Swollen and tender lymph nodes at the front of the neck
  • A rash

Conversely, if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you might have COVID-19 and not strep throat:

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Congestion
  • New loss of smell and/or taste

Another important distinction between strep throat and COVID-19 is how quickly symptoms appear—the throat soreness associated with strep throat tends to appear fairly suddenly, while COVID-19 symptoms seem to come on more gradually.

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, visit a PhysicianOne urgent care near you for a rapid PCR test so you can start treatment right away.

Strep Throat Treatment vs. COVID-19 Treatment

As mentioned above, strep throat is a bacterial infection and COVID-19 is a respiratory virus. This distinction is important because although antibiotics can be used to treat bacterial infections, they have no effect on viruses. The FDA has approved the antiviral drug Veklury (remdesivir) for adults and certain pediatric patients with COVID-19, and there are 2 oral antiviral pills authorized for patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19, Paxlovid and Lagevrio (molnupiravir). Both Paxlovid and Lagevrio have shown that they can reduce the risk of COVID-19 progressing to severe disease, including hospitalization and death.

The Difference Between Bronchitis & COVID-19

While COVID-19 doesn’t always produce symptoms, when it does, the symptoms can be deceivingly similar to those produced by acute bronchitis. Also known as a chest cold, acute bronchitis is a common lung condition that causes airway inflammation.

Even though bronchitis and COVID-19 can share symptoms, it is important to know the difference between these two illnesses since COVID-19 and bronchitis can affect you in different ways. If left untreated, both conditions can progress and lead to serious and sometimes life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress, which may require hospitalization and the use of a ventilator.

Bronchitis Symptoms vs. COVID-19 Symptoms

You can’t tell the difference between COVID-19 symptoms and bronchitis symptoms – at least not without the help of a medical provider. COVID-19 and bronchitis share the following symptoms:

  • Persistent dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Low-grade fever

Typically, acute bronchitis will resolve on its own within a few weeks. During that time, you should pay close attention to your symptoms. As you recover from your chest cold, your initial dry, hacking cough should gradually transition into a productive cough. In addition to a low-grade fever, you may also experience fatigue, body aches, chills, a runny nose, and a sore throat. You should seek medical attention right away if you feel very uncomfortable or your symptoms seem to be getting worse instead of better. This is important because if left untreated, acute bronchitis can become chronic or progress into pneumonia.

The Difference Between a Sinus Infection & COVID-19

A sinus infection occurs when the sinuses become blocked—often due to a cold or allergies—and the resulting fluid build-up becomes infected with germs. Since sinus infections share symptoms with many other common illnesses and COVID-19, it can be hard to tell if you have a run of a sinus infection or COVID-19.

Sinus Infection Symptoms vs. COVID-19 Symptoms

Sinus infections can cause a number of symptoms similar to a cold, such as congestion, runny nose, sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, and fatigue. Unlike a cold, the hallmark symptoms of a sinus infection include:

  • Pain and pressure around the eyes, cheekbones, and upper jaw
  • Thick yellow or green nasal discharge
  • Bad breath
  • A decreased sense of smell and taste

In addition to sharing symptoms with the common cold, sinus infections also share symptoms with COVID-19. Both sinus infections and COVID-19 can cause congestion, runny nose, sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, and fatigue. One big difference between COVID-19 and sinus infections is that COVID-19 tends to cause more respiratory symptoms, including shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. COVID-19 can also cause a new loss of taste and/or smell, as well as body aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

If you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, find a PhysicianOne urgent care near you today for a rapid PCR test.

The Difference Between Allergies & COVID-19

Did you know that COVID-19 has many of the same symptoms as allergies? Because of this, every tickle in the throat or stuffy nose is a cause for concern and has people questioning if it’s just allergies or if it’s COVID-19. Thankfully, there are a few ways allergies differentiate from COVID-19.

Allergy Symptoms vs. COVID-19 Symptoms

Allergies and COVID-19 share many respiratory symptoms, including:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • runny nose
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Sore throat

Symptoms that are just present for allergies and not COVID-19 include itchy or watery eyes and post-nasal drip. Symptoms that are just present for COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, intense fatigue, and body aches.

Allergy Treatment vs. COVID-19 Treatment

Allergies typically respond well to antihistamines, while COVID-19 doesn’t. That doesn’t mean medications won’t help ease COVID-19 symptoms – you may be able to ease the severity of COVID-19 symptoms with over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

The Difference Between the Flu & COVID-19

Telling the differences between the flu and COVID-19 can be difficult since they are both contagious respiratory illnesses that share many common symptoms.

Flu Symptoms vs. COVID-19 Symptoms

Both the flu and COVID-19 can present with many shared symptoms, including:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

While the flu and COVID-19 share so many symptoms, there are several symptoms of COVID-19 that are not present in flu patients. These include shortness of breath and having a new loss of taste or smell.

Flu Treatment vs. COVID-19 Treatment

At-home treatment for the flu and COVID-19 are quite similar, as you’ll want to get lots of rest, stay hydrated, and take over-the-counter pain relievers to feel better. However, medication prescribed is very different for these viruses, so it is crucial to understand which virus is making you sick to get the correct treatment for your disease. It’s also crucial to stay home, unless you need to seek medical care, and to isolate yourself as much as possible to reduce your risk of infecting other people in your home.

The flu can be treated with antiviral drugs, although they are most effective if taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Individuals with the flu can also receive a flu vaccine, which may lessen the severity of their symptoms. COVID-19 treatment should be started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Similar to the flu vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine may lessen the severity of symptoms, but if you are diagnosed with COVID-19 or tested positive, you should wait 3 months from when your symptoms started or when you received a positive test before getting the vaccine.

The Difference Between a Cold & COVID-19

The common cold and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory infections that can produce similar symptoms. Often caused by a rhinovirus, the common cold is a relatively mild upper respiratory illness that usually improves without treatment. On the other hand, COVID-19 is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), a virus that is potentially much more serious.

Cold Symptoms vs. COVID-19 Symptoms

In general, a scratchy throat is often the first sign of a cold coming on, but losing your sense of smell or ability to taste is a distinctive sign of COVID-19. Beyond that, there are several crossover symptoms between the common cold and COVID-19, and therefore it can be challenging to make a conclusive diagnosis. In fact, some of the shared common cold and COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Cold and COVID-19 Similarities and Differences

The common cold and COVID-19 are similar in that both viral infections:

  • Mainly spread when virus-containing respiratory droplets enter the air after an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and the droplets are then inhaled by an uninfected person
  • Also spread when an uninfected person touches a surface contaminated with virus-containing respiratory droplets, then touches his or her face
  • Do not respond to antibiotic treatment, which is only effective against bacterial infections
  • Can be prevented with frequent handwashing and social distancing

Unlike the common cold, COVID-19:

  • Can cause a sudden loss of taste or smell
  • Can cause symptoms that range in severity from mild to critical (or no symptoms at all)
  • Can cause serious complications, such as pneumonia and long-term damage to organs throughout the body, including the lungs, heart, brain, and kidneys
  • May require hospitalization and the use of a ventilator (in severe cases)

Why Choose PhysicianOne Urgent Care

PhysicianOne Urgent Care is available to meet your urgent care needs from COVID-19 to cold and flu treatment. With locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York, we are open 7 days a week for walk-in visits and offer virtual care appointments for your convenience. In addition to our full range of non-emergency health care services, we’re pleased to offer COVID-19 testing at all locations, including rapid PCR tests. Whether you think you have the common cold, strep throat, bronchitis, allergies, the flu, a sinus infection, or COVID-19, we are here for you.

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