Cold and flu season is here and COVID-19 continues to spread. With every cough or sniffle, you may wonder if it’s asthma or allergies, the flu, the common cold or even COVID-19. How can you tell the difference? They manifest similar symptoms, making it easy to mistake one for another. The surest way to an accurate diagnosis is to see your doctor and get tested.

Short of that, familiarizing ourselves with various symptoms associated with each condition can help lessen anxiety and reduce the crush on healthcare resources during the coronavirus pandemic. This list may help. While it is not exhaustive or a substitute for medical advice, it can help identify basic differences between, say,  seasonal allergies and the much more serious COVID-19.

COVID-19 Symptoms

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 can affect people differently. People with mild to moderate symptoms can often recover at home. On average it takes 5–6 days for symptoms to show following infection, however it can take up to 14 days. Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Tiredness
  • Aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Skin rash or discoloration of fingers or toes
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Loss of speech or movement

Flu (Influenza) Symptoms

COVID-19 and Influenza are caused by different viruses. Yet these viruses spread in similar ways and cause many of the same signs and symptoms. However, there are a few differences. With the flu, symptoms can start suddenly and cause mild to severe illness, sometimes resulting in death. Common symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever (often very high, 101 or above)
  • Headache
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Chills
  • Constant cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches in bones and/or muscles
  • Diarrhea and vomiting (more common in children)

Cold Symptoms

The common cold is usually mild compared to the flu and COVID-19. But even a mild cold can trigger unpleasant symptoms, so if you catch a cold, it’s good to take it seriously. Common symptoms of a cold include:

  • Mild cough
  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • A short fever
  • Aches and pains

Asthma Symptoms

Asthma is a chronic disease that inflames the airways. The best way to manage it is to take asthma medication, avoid triggers and treat asthma symptoms as soon as they occur. Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing (a whistling, squeaky sound when you breathe)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chest tightness

Allergy Symptoms

The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology points out that allergies generally occur when the immune system overreacts to something often harmless for others. For seasonal allergy sufferers, that means their bodies don’t react well to allergens like pollen, grass, and/or ragweed. Allergies are not contagious, unlike colds, the flu and COVID. Symptoms that often accompany allergies include:

  • Runny nose, stuffy nose, and/or sneezing
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Dry Cough
  • Mucus
  • Rashes
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

This chart is a handy reference tool when trying to distinguish between symptoms.