These days, anyone who sniffles or sneezes may be quick to get a side-eye from those around them. They may proclaim, “It’s just allergies!” but in 2020, any symptoms could be seen as suspect.
As we guard ourselves and our families against COVID-19, it’s hard to take anyone at their word. And rightfully so, since so many symptoms are crossovers between COVID-19, the flu, a cold and seasonal allergies.
This series on Women’s Health is brought to you by Tryon Medical Partners, an independent practice of nearly 90 physicians who joined forces because they share the core belief that the patient-doctor connection is the foundation for better health.
In years past, we’d often chalk up common symptoms like fatigue, congestion and a runny nose to a little illness that would pass with chicken noodle soup and a few days on the couch. This year, the stakes are higher. So when you or a loved one is sick, how do you know what you have or how to treat it?
The doctors at Tryon Medical Partners have been on the front lines of COVID-19 for months. Just days after the first positive case in Charlotte, they opened their first satellite clinic for testing and evaluation. Since then, Tryon healthcare experts have tested thousands, even dispatching teams to care for essential workers, making sure vital businesses could continue to operate safely and serve our community.
With all this experience evaluating symptoms and caring for patients, we asked the doctors at Tryon to share more about how to manage symptoms when they occur in your own family. They also stress that, in times of uncertainty, doctors are available via virtual visit or Virtual Urgent Care to assess your particular needs.
COVID-19 vs. Flu
COVID-19 and the flu are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Similarly, both can cause severe illness or result in an asymptomatic status, meaning a person is infected but shows no symptoms. Fever, cough, fatigue, headaches, muscle and body aches, and a runny nose or congestion are all shared symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu. But one series of symptoms remains specific to COVID-19: the loss of taste and smell.
Tryon doctors are currently conducting research on a COVID-19 vaccine right here in Charlotte. While COVID-19 is understandably dominating the headlines, that flu vaccines are available now and remain the best way to prevent getting the flu.
COVID-19 vs. Cold
Like COVID-19 and the flu, a common cold is also caused by a respiratory virus, most often the rhinovirus, known to trigger asthma attacks and sinus and ear infections. Colds result in symptoms that are often far less severe than COVID-19, cause relatively minor complications, and are likely to go away on their own.
With a cold, you are less likely to have a fever and the symptoms that accompany fever, like chills, fatigue, weakness and body aches. A sore throat and runny nose are most common in the early onset of a cold. While there are tests for COVID-19 and the flu, there are none for the common cold.
COVID-19 vs. Allergies
The warmer temperatures in the south make Charlotte a long-suffering region for those with allergies. Even worse, fall allergies tend to arrive at the same time as cold and flu season. Allergies have a sudden onset, while symptoms of COVID-19 present more gradually. Fever does not accompany allergies, nor do fever-related symptoms. Allergy sufferers are most likely to find themselves with headaches, sneezing, sore throat, stuffy nose and a dry cough.
There are medicines and various methods of reducing allergy symptoms that Tryon physicians often recommend. Your internal medicine doctor can work to create a treatment plan unique to your allergies and symptoms.
While the root of your symptoms may not always be clear without consulting your physician, the good news is the techniques we’ve all learned for COVID-19 prevention apply to flu and colds, too. By washing your hands, staying socially distant and wearing masks, we can all work to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses.
Getting Tested – Which Test to Choose and When
If you or a loved one are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, the first reaction is often to want a test immediately using the method that returns the fastest results. But by following this logic, you may be risking the sensitivity and, thus, the accuracy of the test.
Through their experience, Tryon has developed specific testing suggestions to deliver the best, most accurate results. They recommend those who are symptomatic self-quarintine and wait three days before being tested. That allows enough genetic copies of the virus to exist and be picked up by the test. The only test Tryon uses is the nasopharyngeal swab, which is inserted up the nose and into the back of the nasal cavity. Some patients can be wary about this test as opposed to the anterior nasal test, which involves inserting a small cotton swab up both nasal cavities and can be found at most pharmacy chains. However, the anterior nasal tests have lower sensitivity than nasopharyngeal swabs. Plus, nasopharyngeal tests should not be painful if performed by an experienced provider. They often just feel as though you’ve gotten water up your nose.
Despite all the uncertainty of common symptoms between COVID-19, flu, colds and allergies, you can rest easier and make the best choices for your family when you have a trusted physician on your side. Tryon assures us that it’s important to continue getting the everyday care you need in order to stay healthy and that your internal medicine doctor is here for you in times of sickness and health.
Tryon Medical Partners is an independent medical practice dedicated to maintaining trusted patient-doctor relationships, providing excellent and personalized care, and giving you the choices in healthcare that you deserve. With eight convenient locations throughout Charlotte, Tryon Medical Partners specializes in primary care as well as cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, pulmonary, rheumatology and sleep medicine.