How do COVID-19 Symptoms Differ from Those Caused by Seasonal Allergies, Colds, and the Flu?


It can be nerve-wracking to know there’s a new kind of bug going around, and we’re not exactly sure how it’s spread. Every sneeze, tickle in the throat, or muscle ache can make you wonder, “Do I have coronavirus?” 

The medical teams at Prima Medicine, with locations in Washington, D.C., and Fairfax and South Riding, Virginia, are committed to serving the local community. We’ve prepared this brief on COVID-19 using information from the latest authoritative sources, to help you discern your symptoms and understand what is and is not a cause for alarm.

Top COVID-19 symptoms

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), while not all people will present in exactly the same way, there are a few key symptoms that appear in most patients infected with the coronavirus.

  • Nearly 90% of patients have a high fever.
  • Nearly 70% of patients have a dry cough.
  • Nearly 40% of patients have fatigue.
  • Nearly 20% of patients have shortness of breath.

Some patients may cough up phlegm; experience headaches, muscle, and/or joint pain; have nasal or eye congestion, or suffer from nausea or diarrhea. However, if you have one or more of these symptoms but not the top symptoms of COVID-19, you may simply have seasonal allergies, a cold, or the flu.

Seasonal allergy symptoms

Seasonal allergies usually present with one or more of the following allergy symptoms:

  • Watery or itchy eyes
  • Nasal itching, congestion, or a runny nose
  • Sneezing and/or post-nasal drip 
  • Itchy sinuses (nose and/or throat)
  • Itchy ear canals and/or ear congestion and pressure

If you have severe allergies or asthma, you could also experience headaches, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Already having respiratory issues can make COVID-19 more dangerous to you, so practice good hygiene and try to avoid exposure.

Common cold symptoms

If you have a common cold, you may be experiencing one or more of these cold symptoms:

  • Stuffy nose, runny nose, and/or sneezing
  • Cough, sore throat, and/or congestion
  • Mild headache or body aches
  • Low-grade fever
  • General feeling of being unwell (malaise)

If your fever climbs, or if you start having shortness of breath, your cold may have developed into something more serious. You could have also been exposed to COVID-19, but you should only be worried if you are in a high-risk category (advanced in age, with existing respiratory problems, or with a compromised immune system.)

Flu symptoms

The flu is the main illness that can present with symptoms the most similar to top COVID-19 symptoms. Flu symptoms include:

  • Possible fever
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Muscle or body aches or headaches
  • Fatigue

The big COVID-19 symptom missing from the flu symptom list is a dry cough. However, it is possible to have one or the other and have different symptoms than the most common ones.

If you are worried you have COVID-19

The CDC has the following instructions if you think you may have COVID-19:

Call your doctor if you develop the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath


  • You’ve been in close contact with someone known to have COVID-19 OR
  • You live in or have recently traveled from an area experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19. 

Call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, and tell them about your symptoms and any recent travel or contact with travelers or people with confirmed cases. You don’t want to expose others unnecessarily.

The entire team at Prima Medicine is here for you during this challenging time. If you need an appointment, call us at or contact us online.

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