Not all that glitters is gold and not all discomfort is symptom of covid-19. But in these times it is even normal to try to associate any trace of disease with a possible SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection. Differentiating covid-19 from the flu, a cold, sore throat, an allergy attack or accumulated fatigue after a bad day is not always easy. Hence, when in doubt, always recommend going to a professional health.

If the diagnoses are already convoluted in themselves, in the case of covid-19, one more complication must be added. A great percentage of patients diagnosed with this infection no symptomsas reflected by various reports from the Ministry of Health. So now you not only have to be aware of the symptoms that appear, but you also have to take into account the possible risk contacts that we have had in the previous days.

In the event that symptoms appear, the definitive diagnosis should be guided by the intervention of a health professional and, of course, by the common sense of each one. here some clues to differentiate between a case of covid-19, flu, cold or allergy.

Coronavirus or complaint? No PCR, complicated

A large part of the doubts that arise these days have to do with the difference between covid-19 and the common complaint. Especially now that coronavirus cases are reappearing around the world and that the seasonal flu is at the door. “These are contagious respiratory diseases produced by different viruses but which clinically they can be confused”, explains Dr. Antonio Lalueza, an internist and member of the Infectious Diseases Working Group of the Spanish Society of Internal Medicine (SEMI). Both covid-19 and the flu can cause fever, cough, tiredness, sore throat, muscle pain, headache, diarrhea, and breathing problems. «In both cases, the disease can have a different severity that would range from asymptomatic or mild cases to the most serious conditions that require hospitalization,» the doctor qualifies.

Since many of these symptoms are similar, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two cold illnesses based on these signs of general malaise alone. “The symptoms can give some indices, as well as knowing if the patient has been exposed to a risk situation or in contact with someone positive. but all these suspicions are only confirmed with a PCR”, explains the doctor sonia miravet, vice-secretary of the Col·legi de Metges de Barcelona (COMB) and family doctor at EAP Martorell Rural. Diagnostic tests, in fact, are the most effective method to distinguish between these diseases.

Seen from a laboratory, viruses are different. The common complaint, the one that arrives each year around these dates, is due to the virus of the influenza (a pathogen that, in turn, sheds seasonally). Covid-19, on the other hand, originates from the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Both microorganisms are transmitted through the air (via droplets expelled by breathing, coughing, or talking) and, once landed on their host, trigger an infection (which may or may not lead to the cascade of symptoms before I touched).

Among so many similarities between viruses and their effects on the human body, there is a symptom that could indicate a case of covid-19; the loss of taste and smell (also know as anosmia Y dysgeusia). «Taste and smell changes, even prior to fever, can make us suspect a coronavirus infection,» argues Miravet. Although, once again, it must be remembered that this symptom by itself does not offer a clear diagnosis.

Covid-19 or cold? The track of the snot

The cold also brings back the common colds, catarrhs ​​and constipations typical of this period. These also originate from a viral infection caused (usually) by a rhinovirus (and not by the cold itself, as explained by the doctor and science writer Esther Samper in ‘If it stings, it heals’). The pathogen responsible for this discomfort, then, is different. And the course of the disease, too.

The most typical symptoms of colds are sneezing, congestion, and runny nose. This discomfort, in principle, does not usually appear in cases of coronavirus infection. So a runny nose, and the bad body left by a common cold (which we’ve all been through), might help sharpen the diagnosis.

Nor should we forget that cases of severe colds are usually accompanied by a impaired ability to perceive smells and tastes; something totally normal if we take into account the stuffy noses so characteristic of colds. What is the difference, then, between this symptom and the one experienced by patients with covid-19? An investigation by a European group of experts in smell disorders indicates that in cases of coronavirus infection loss of taste and smell is not accompanied by a runny nose.

Covid-19 or allergy? context is everything

To differentiate the discomfort generated by covid-19 from the typical one that arises from allergy, the context is essential. As well they know the people with allergic rhinitisthere is usually a trigger that unleashes symptoms such as itchy nose and eyes, repeated sneezing, watery runny nose and nasal congestion. So the moment in which the discomfort occurs is key to knowing what it is.

«What should make us suspect that it is an allergy is that the symptoms will worsen when the patient is outdoors and will improve for sure when they remain indoors,» they point out from the Spanish Society of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (SEAIC).

Allergy attacks also do not usually cause muscle pain or fever (except in cases of acute sinusitis), while in cases of covid-19 this is one of the most recognizable symptoms. In patients who also have asthma, the difficulty breathing it could be confused with the first symptoms of covid. In this case, the SEAIC allergists explain, «asthma symptoms are usually easily reversed with the use of rescue bronchodilators.»

Covid-19 or angina? attention to sore throat

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The differences between angina Y a picture of covid-19 they are also subtle and often difficult to differentiate. The tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils located at the end of the throat) can start due to a viral or bacterial infection. The influenza virus can also trigger this infection, which can also cause fever, general malaise and cough, among others.

In this case, the clues to differentiate between both ailments have to do with the symptoms typically associated with angina. If he pain is focused in the throat, the voice becomes between hoarse and hoarse and, in addition, there are difficulties swallowing, everything points to tonsillitis (since none of these symptoms are directly related to covid-19). But, as always, when in doubt, it is better to consult a health professional and start the indicated treatment.