COVID-19, Flu, and Seasonal Allergies

Facts and information about the coronavirus pandemic are constantly changing. Visit the CDC site for the most up-to-date information during the COVID-19 outbreak.

COVID-19, the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, has been present in the United States for several months now, but we’re about to experience new challenges with the disease. The U.S. is entering cold and flu season, and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that 50 million Americans experience allergies each year.

Cold, flu, seasonal allergies, and COVID-19 share common symptoms. This makes it difficult to know exactly what is causing your symptoms.

There are some differences in the symptoms of these illnesses, though.

In addition to learning some of the key differences among colds, flu, allergies, and COVID-19 symptoms, do what you can to prevent the spread of illness, stay home if you are not feeling well, and contact your doctor’s office if your symptoms do not improve.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between colds, flu, and COVID-19 based on symptoms alone. Even seasonal allergies cause symptoms that look like COVID-19. Stay home if you are sick. Click To Tweet

Symptoms of COVID-19

The three main COVID-19 symptoms that were first identified were fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Additional symptoms have since been identified:

  • chills
  • diarrhea
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fatigue
  • body aches
  • headache
  • congestion or runny nose
  • sore throat
  • loss of taste or smell

These symptoms range from mild to severe and may appear  two to 14 days after exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

COVID-19 is still a new disease and it may cause other symptoms that have yet to be identified.


The common cold is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. Colds are typically mild in comparison to flu or COVID-19. However, it is difficult to tell the difference between a mild case of flu or COVID-19 and a cold based on symptoms alone.

Key differences between colds and COVID-19

  • Sneezing is a common symptom of colds, but not COVID-19.
  • Colds do not typically cause a fever, but fever is a common symptom of flu and COVID-19.
  • Headaches are not a common symptom of colds.

Seasonal allergies

Seasonal allergies are not caused by a virus, and those around you can’t catch your allergies. Allergic reactions are triggered by pollen and other airborne allergens that affect the nose, sinuses, and the eyes. 

It is easier to tell the difference between allergies and COVID-19.

Key differences between seasonal allergies and COVID-19

  • Fever and chills are not a common symptom of seasonal allergies, but they are common for flu and COVID-19.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing are not common symptoms of seasonal allergies for people without respiratory conditions such as asthma.
  • Itchy or watery eyes are common with seasonal allergies, but not COVID-19.
  • Sneezing is common for seasonal allergies and colds, but not for COVID-19.
  • Muscle aches are not common for seasonal allergies.
  • Nausea and diarrhea are not common seasonal allergy symptoms.

Talk to your doctor if you have seasonal allergies. Your physician may recommend over-the-counter allergy medicine, or they may refer you to a specialist. Those with seasonal allergies can also limit time spent outdoors, and improve the air quality in their home.

Flu and COVID-19

Flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses caused by infection from a virus. Both can lead to complications requiring hospitalization or resulting in death.

It is difficult to differentiate between COVID-19 and the flu based on symptoms alone. Testing can help determine whether your illness is caused by influenza or coronavirus.

COVID-19 symptoms may take longer to develop than the flu. Flu symptoms typically develop within one to four days, while COVID-19 symptoms typically develop five days after infection.

Loss of taste or smell are more common with COVID-19 than with flu.

The CDC offers a detailed look at the differences between COVID-19 and flu.

What can you do to stay healthy?

You can take preventive actions to help protect yourself, your family, and those around you from communicable illnesses.

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Maintain physical distance when possible.
  • Wear a face mask.
  • Stay home if you are sick.

These are things that health officials recommend to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and these actions can help prevent the spread of influenza viruses, too.

There is more that you can do to prevent the flu, though.

It is especially important to get a flu shot this year. Vaccination is the most effective way to protect yourself from preventable illnesses. There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, but we can vaccinate against influenza.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between seasonal allergies, cold, flu, and COVID-19. Stay home if you are sick, and monitor your symptoms, and contact your doctor’s office if your symptoms do not improve.