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COVID-19, flu, common cold and allergies: how do you know the difference?

Keep your distance; new study on coughing shows masks help, not perfect
Posted at 4:31 PM, Oct 19, 2020

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — COVID-19 cases are on the rise once again in Southern Nevada, at the same time temperatures are dropping, which means the flu, common cold and allergies are all on their way.

"Part of it is that the presentations of coronavirus are very variable. Some people are very sick. Some people have very mild symptoms so it's hard to tell the difference," said Dominic Diprinzio, ER doctor at Southern Hills Hospital.

What also makes it hard to tell the difference is the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu, in particular, are virtually the same. People with either virus can have a fever, the chills, muscle aches, a cough, be nauseous or vomiting. What typically separates COVID-19 from the flu are the less common symptoms of abdominal pain and shortness of breath. And while someone with seasonal allergies or the common cold typically have less severe symptoms like a runny nose, all four have a cough as a common symptom.

"What I've started doing when people come in with these symptoms is testing for both. For influenza and the coronavirus," said Diprinzio.

Diprinzio said people should not hesitate to go to the hospital when they have certain symptoms.

"If you're having fevers, cough, you're very short of breath, please don't be afraid to come get checked out," he said. "It's okay to come get checked out if you need to."

And while overlapping symptoms can be confusing and stress-inducing, Sari Dennis, a board-certified health and wellness counselor who founded My Wellness Counts, said there are easy things you can add to your diet right now to boost your immune system and help protect against everything.

"Dark leafy greens, which are loaded with vitamin C and vitamin E and packed with antioxidants to help fight off infection," Dennis said. "Beans are a great source of zinc and zinc is a really important mineral that boosts our white blood cell which is really critical for keeping our immune system strong and garlic. Garlic has immune-boosting properties that come from a heavy concentration of the sulfur and allicin. That's really important. It's anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial."

Diprinzio added that the disease-fighting best practices we've heard repeatedly during the pandemic - washing your hands often, wearing a mask, and keeping social distance - can help in protecting against the flu and common cold as well.