Cold, Flu, or Coronavirus?

Dr. Monica Lypson

Cherry Blossoms in full bloom, birds chirping, and finally able to open your windows- the tell-tell signs of spring are welcome in a time of anxiety and uncertainty. But with COVID-19 the sneezes, coughs and stuffy sinuses can bring on panic and the ultimate questions-is it seasonal allergies? A cold? The flu? Or is it the Coronavirus?

With Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases on the rise in the DC Metro region, self-awareness is the key when it comes to your symptoms. Dr. Monica Lypson, vice chair of internal medicine at The GW Medical Faculty Associates notes some key differences between your symptoms.

“The good news is most people who have allergies have had them before. You can say ‘oh my nose is running, I have a little tickle in the back of my throat because of my sinus drainage’. And you can probably recognize those symptoms. They are probably not new to you”, said Dr. Lypson. “If you feel you need to clear your throat or your nose is running, but you otherwise feel pretty good then that’s a good indication it’s probably just allergies, especially if it is accompanied by itchy eyes and other things and they only happen when you go outside- we call those ‘allergic triggers’.”

Additionally, a common cold usually has symptoms like runny nose, earache, and sore throat, but generally, there is no fever with a cold. Dr. Lypson stated that when it comes to distinguishing between flu and COVID-19, things get tricky and it may be best to call your doctor for advice.

“Typically the difference between flu and COVID-19 is that flu accompanies total body fatigue, malaise (general discomfort), fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose”, said Dr. Lypson. “COVID-19 you can have a fever, like influenza, but it typically tends to be lower respiratory symptoms like cough and shortness of breath.”

According to Dr. Lypson, the key difference between COVID-19 and the flu has been shortness of breath. Typically, shortness of breath doesn’t accompany the flu. As the spring and summer months approach, flu season is coming to a close so people will become less likely to get the flu. Dr. Lypson stresses that at the end of the day, you should always consult your healthcare provider with specific questions.

If you think you may be experiencing serious flu or COVID-19 like symptoms, we encourage you to give us a call at 202.741.3000 (8:00 am to 5:00 pm - Monday to Friday) before visiting your doctor.

If you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 (2019 novel coronavirus), it’s important to prevent the spread of the illness to other patients, health care providers, your family, and the broader community.

Remember: not everyone needs to be tested. If your symptoms are mild and you have no complex medical issues, please stay home and self-isolate. If you’re concerned that you’ve been exposed or have a general question about COVID-19, please call your physicians office or The GW Medical Faculty Associates at (202) 741-3000.


Click to watch Dr. Monica Lypson’s video here about cold, flu, or coronavirus.
For more info on allergies, please click here. For the latest updates on COVID-19 at The GW Medical Faculty Associates.

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