Flu or COVID-19: How to Tell the Difference

woman lying on couch blowing her nose

You have a sore throat and a lot of congestion, and you just aren’t feeling quite like yourself. Could it be the flu or COVID-19?

Since we’re headed for cold and flu season, the time of year when respiratory infections run amuck, it could be either of those things—or neither one. The symptoms of many different illnesses experienced during the colder months are similar and tricky to tell apart.

The only way to definitively know what’s causing you to feel under the weather is to be tested. Quick tests for COVID-19, the flu and other conditions such as RSV are available at River’s Edge Hospital’s Urgent Care Department.

Symptoms of Respiratory Infections

If you’ve been following along since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve probably noticed that symptoms have varied over time. That’s because the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 continually mutates into new strains that are associated with different symptoms.

Early COVID-19 cases, for example, often included a notable loss of taste or smell. These days, experiencing a loss of these senses due to COVID-19 is less common. Symptoms of COVID-19 now often start with a sore throat followed by congestion, like other upper respiratory infections. COVID-19 may also cause headache, body aches, fever or chills.

COVID-19 symptoms can also be flu symptoms, which means COVID-19 and the flu look similar these days.

Signs You Need to Seek Medical Care

If you’re feeling slightly under the weather, you’re probably OK to treat any symptoms you have by staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest. But because the flu and COVID-19 are contagious, you’ll want to avoid others as much as possible as you recover.

If you’re an older adult, are immunocompromised or are otherwise at a higher risk of complications related to a health condition, it’s always a good idea to check in with your provider. Tests can help determine whether you have COVID-19 or the flu rather than just a common cold, allowing you to receive appropriate treatment.

Antiviral drugs may be prescribed in some cases to treat COVID-19 or the flu. These medications work to reduce the severity of symptoms and help speed up healing from the infection.

Certain symptoms, such having unusual difficulty breathing, are a sign that immediate medical attention is needed. In children, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, stomach issues, a rash, or an inability to wake or stay awake can be red flags of a condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, which is an emergency. This condition, which is incredibly rare, occurs within two to six weeks after a COVID-19 diagnosis.

To protect yourself and your loved ones during flu season and beyond, your best defense is to be vaccinated. This year’s updated COVID-19 vaccine will help protect you from current coronavirus strains, while getting your flu shot will provide protection from the influenza virus.

Wondering whether you need urgent care or emergency care? Our quick guide can help you make the right move when illness or injury strikes!

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