Is It COVID-19, The Flu, A Cold Or Allergies?


People are freaked out — with reason. During these uncertain times and with cases of the novel coronavirus (or COVID-19) rising in the U.S., it’s understandable that every ache and sniffle could make you cry coronavirus.

As we are all learning, having COVID-19 is not a case of the flu – it’s more dangerous.

“While the flu may mutate from year to year, this year’s flu is still a cousin to last year’s flu,” says Sean Drake, M.D., an internal medicine doctor with Henry Ford Health System. “That means we have some natural immunity to it, along with effective therapy and vaccines to prevent and treat it. But our immune systems are not equipped to deal with COVID-19 because we haven’t seen it before. And unfortunately, because it’s new, we don’t yet have a vaccine.”

That’s one of the reasons why it’s important that every single person take precautions and practice social distancing. That said, just because you’re sneezing, it doesn’t mean you have COVID-19. 

Here, Dr. Drake differentiates among symptoms we’re seeing in those with the novel coronavirus and those that are typical for influenza, a cold and allergies.


“COVID-19 is a lower-respiratory tract infection,” says Dr. Drake. “It doesn’t include many nasal symptoms. You could have deeper coughs, shortness of breath, a high-spiking fever of 102 or 103 degrees Fahrenheit, body aches, a decreased appetite, and sometimes nausea or vomiting. Dry coughs are common with COVID-19, meaning you won’t produce lots of phlegm when you cough.”

The Flu

“Influenza and COVID-19 share a lot of the same symptoms,” says Dr. Drake. “Clinically, they’re fairly similar, with a high-spiking fever and body aches. Fatigue can happen in both the flu and COVID-19, but it may be a bit more common with the flu. And with influenza, you may have more congestion than with COVID-19.”

The Common Cold

“With a cold, you could have a moderate temperature of about 100 or 101 degrees Fahrenheit, along with sinus congestion and drainage that’s yellow or green colored, and a sore throat,” he says.


“Symptoms of allergies typically consist of a stuffy nose, runny eyes, stuffed up ears,” says Dr. Drake. “You might have a little cough, clear drainage, and sneezing. Pain pressure around the sinuses and eyes is also common. If you have the same symptoms this March as you had last March, it’s probably not COVID-19, it’s probably allergies. A fever usually doesn’t occur alongside allergies, either.”

If you’re experiencing symptoms and are concerned about possibly having COVID-19, use this online screening tool to help you learn more about your risk and get recommended next steps. 

For up-to-date information about Henry Ford Health System’s response to the coronavirus, visit

Dr. Sean Drake is an internal medicine physician seeing patients at Henry Ford Medical Center in Sterling Heights.

Categories: FeelWell