Colds, Flu, Coronavirus & Allergies
Symptom Checker and Treatment Options
This article is a compilation based on information from the United States Centers for Disease Control, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the National Health Service in Great Britain and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It will be updated as new information appears.
Waking up with a stuffy nose, coughing and sneezing, is a bad way to start the day. To deal with the problem, you need to know what you've got. Is it a cold? Flu? Coronavirus? Allergies? The way you treat them is very different, and so is the risk you pose to others. Here's how to figure out what you might have, and the best way to deal with it.
Let's start by defining what each one is.
The common cold is a viral infection that primarily affects the nose and throat (upper respiratory tract). There are more than 200 types of viruses that cause the cold, but the most common is the rhinovirus, thought to be responsible for at least 50% of all colds. Estimates are that Americans have around 1 billion colds a year.
Flu (influenza) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It infects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. There are two main types of flu virus: Types A and B. Those are generally what people spread during seasonal flu epidemics each year.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. There are many human coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS. (SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and MERS is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.)
COVID-19 is caused by a novel, or newly identified coronavirus. It was first identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China at the end of 2019.
Allergies are the result of your immune system making war on things it shouldn't. Pollen in the air, shellfish or peanuts are all things that can trigger reactions. Those triggers are called allergens.
The following is a chart you can use as a symptom checker.
|How Long It Lasts||3-5 days for most people, but severe cases can continue up to 14 days.||3-7 days for most people, but severe cases can last 14 days.|
|When It Happens||Most often in the winter, but it's possible anytime.||Most often in the winter, but it's possible anytime.|
|Symptom Onset||Gradual – Symptoms can take a few days to appear after infection with the virus.||Abrupt – Symptoms can begin within 3-6 hours after exposure to the virus.|
|Coughing||A hacking productive (mucus producing) cough is often present with a cold.||A non-productive (non-mucus producing) cough is usually present with the flu (sometimes called a dry cough).|
|Shortness of Breath||Sometimes||Sometimes|
|Fever||Rarely||Over 100.4 F (38 C)|
|Runny or Stuffy Nose||Often||Sometimes|
|Itchy, Watery Eyes||Rarely||Rarely|
|Aches||Slight||Often – Severe aches and pains are common.|
|Headache||Rarely||Often present in over 80% of flu cases.|
|Diarrhea||Rarely||Sometimes, but children are more likely to experience this than adults.|
|Vomiting||Rarely||Sometimes, but children are more likely to experience this than adults.|
|Chills / Sweats||Rarely||60% of people who have the flu experience chills.|
|Fatigue / Weakness||Sometimes – Generally mild if it's experienced.||Often – It ranges from moderate to severe.|
|How Long It Lasts||Typically 10-14 days after symptoms appear. Severe cases can take 3-6 weeks for full recovery.||Days to months -- as long as you're in contact with the allergy trigger and a short time after.|
|When It Happens||Currently not known.||Anytime the allergens appear.|
|Symptom Onset||Slow – Symptoms typically take about 5 days to appear, but extreme cases can take up to 14 days.||Abrupt – Symptoms can begin immediately after contact with allergy triggers.|
|Coughing||A non-productive (non-mucus producing) cough is usually present with the coronavirus (sometimes called a dry cough).||Sometimes|
|Shortness of Breath||Often||In more severe reactions yes.|
|Fever||Over 100.4 F (38 C)||Very Rarely|
|Runny or Stuffy Nose||Sometimes||Often|
|Itchy, Watery Eyes||Rarely||Often|
|Aches||Often – Severe aches and pains are common.||Rarely|
|Headache||Sometimes||Common headache or facial pain is common, but migraines are rarely triggered by allergies.|
|Diarrhea||Up to 50% of cases can have this as one of the first symptoms.||Rarely|
|Vomiting||Up to 50% of cases can have this as one of the first symptoms.||Often with Food Allergies|
|Abdominal Pain||Up to 50% of cases can have this as one of the first symptoms.||Often with Food Allergies|
|Chills / Sweats||Often||Very Rarely|
|Fatigue / Weakness||Often – It ranges from moderate to severe.||Generally caused by lack of sleep.|
Here are the most common symptoms each one presents with, and how to deal with them.
A cold typically begins with a sore throat, that usually goes away after a day or two. That's followed by a runny nose, that starts watery and becomes thicker and darker over time. Dark mucus is normal and generally doesn't signal a bacterial infection. Congestion and a cough often follow on the fourth or fifth days. A slight fever is possible, but it's not common. Children are more likely to have a fever than adults.
Most colds last 3-5 days, but can extend out for as long as 14 days. It's rare for a cold to last longer than 14 days. If your symptoms persist for that long or longer, see your doctor.
COLD TREATMENTS – Decongestants help reduce nasal swelling, which relieves pressure and improves airflow. Decongestant pills and sprays are common, but avoid using sprays more than three days in a row because they can trigger even more swelling. Pain reliever and fever-reducing medicines can relieve symptoms.
Antibiotics are not recommended for a cold because they won't help. Colds are caused by a virus, not bacteria.
Symptoms generally come on suddenly, unlike a cold that can take a couple days to develop. Typical reactions include a dry cough, fever over 100.4 F (38 C), chills, sore throat, runny nose, congestion, body aches, headaches and fatigue. Children are more likely than adults to also experience diarrhea and vomiting.
These are the signs you need help from a medical professional: You have a fever greater than 101.3F (38.5 C), that fever lasts five days or more, or the fever returns after a fever-free period, you have difficulty breathing, wheezing or shortness of breath, you have persistent pain or pressure in the chest, your lips or face turn blue, you are experiencing confusion or you have difficulty waking up.
Typically the flu will last 3-7 days, but can extend out for as long as 14 days. If your symptoms persist for longer than 14 days, see your doctor.
FLU TREATMENTS - Decongestants help reduce nasal swelling, which relieves pressure and improves airflow. Decongestant pills and sprays are common, but avoid using sprays more than three days in a row because they can trigger even more swelling. Pain reliever and fever-reducing medicines can relieve symptoms. Avoid giving cough and cold medicines to young children, unless under the care of a doctor.
Antiviral drugs are available for the flu, but must be prescribed by your doctor. Treatments work best when started within the first 48 hours. Antibiotics are not recommended for flu because they won't help. The flu is caused by a virus, not bacteria.
This is what happens when an infection causes the air sacs (the alveoli) in your lungs to fill with fluid or pus. It can make breathing difficult and severely restrict how much oxygen reaches your bloodstream.
Bacteria, viruses and fungi can all cause pneumonia. If colds or flu become severe, pneumonia is one of the additional things that can happen. The term walking pneumonia refers to people who have it, but don't know it. If you developed pneumonia from bacteria or a virus, you can pass it on to others.
The three most common symptoms include a fever over 100.4 F (38 C), a dry non-productive cough (coughing without mucus) and tiredness. Nearly 50% of patients that arrive at the hospital also have diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Far less common symptoms include aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat.
There are reports that two other early signs of infection are a loss of smell and a loss of taste. If your senses are muted, you should immediately isolate yourself to avoid infecting others. Contact your local health care provider for further instructions.
Some individuals become infected, without showing any symptoms at all. They feel fine. Those are the most dangerous for the community, because they go around living their normal life, infecting others without knowing it.
Ask yourself a couple of basic questions. Have you been in close physical proximity with somebody from an infected area? Were you in an infected area? Were you at a large event with lots of people? Have you traveled by cruise ship or airplane recently? If any of those are true, consider isolating yourself socially from others for 14 days, to make sure you don't show any symptoms.
COVID-19 TREATMENTS - If you're showing symptoms, put yourself in quarantine for two weeks. That means going home and cutting off physical contact with everybody else, including family and friends, for 14 days. Remain isolated until the symptoms have passed.
There are currently no proven antiviral medications to treat COVID-19 and no vaccines to prevent it. Treatment is designed to relieve symptoms, typically cough syrup and pain relievers. There is some concern about using NSAID's (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like Ibuprofen, here's why.
Our bodies use inflammation to fight infections. It's the signal we use to launch an attack against the invading disease. When we reduce inflammation, it short-circuits our body's defense, causing symptoms to last longer and patients to shed the virus for a longer time. That means you can stay contagious longer if you reduce a fever before you have to.
You can use drugs like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to bring a fever down from 103 or 104 degrees Fahrenheit, you just don't want to keep taking it constantly. You should also get plenty of rest and drink lots of water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Go to the hospital only if symptoms become severe, otherwise hospitals will be overrun with patients. These are the signs you need help from a medical professional: You have a fever greater than 101.3F (38.5 C), that fever lasts five days or more, or the fever returns after a fever-free period, you have difficulty breathing, wheezing or shortness of breath, you have persistent pain or pressure in the chest, your lips or face turn blue, you are experiencing confusion or you have difficulty waking up.
Two things are most closely linked to how severe the disease may become according to research from UCL Institute for Global Health. The number one symptom is people who have shortness of breath (dyspnoea). Hospitalized patients with shortness of breath are more likely to experience severe COVID-19 than patients with any other symptom.
The number one risk factor for severe COVID-19 are patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If you have been diagnosed with COPD you should take extra caution about protecting your health.
Symptoms tend to appear immediately after exposure to the allergen. Itchy and watery eyes, swelling of the affected body part, sneezing and a runny nose. The mucus stays clear and watery, while sore throats are rare.
More serious allergies can cause tightness in the chest and breathing problems. Some people will develop eczema. Severe allergies can cause anaphylactic shock, when your blood pressure drops so low that your cells and organs can't get enough oxygen.
Three of the most identifiable allergy symptoms involve when they happen, where they happen and for how long. Allergies tend to flare-up during particular seasons, when the allergens are circulating. You can probably blame allergies if you have symptoms every time you're where there are things like freshly cut grass, or animals. Allergies are also a likely culprit if the symptoms last longer than two weeks.
ALLERGY TREATMENTS – There are three things you can do. The first and quickest thing you can do is to avoid or get away from whatever is triggering your allergy symptoms. The second is to take medication that prevents or relieves the allergy symptoms. The third is to take allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy, to reduce your sensitivity to whatever is triggering your allergies.
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