Ask the Pharmacist: Nov/Dec 2020

Q: I seem to get sick every winter; I am really concerned this year. How can I tell if it’s a cold, the flu, or COVID?

A: You have good reason to be concerned because the symptoms for all three—and even allergies—are very similar. There are, however, some differences. The symptoms of COVID and the flu are the most similar so I will address those first. Both have symptoms that include fever, cough, shortness of breath, headache, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle or body aches. Fever is the most frequent symptom with COVID (although some people don’t have a fever), and coughing is the most frequent with the flu. COVID has a gradual onset of symptoms, and flu symptoms have a sudden onset. COVID has the unique symptom of loss
of taste or smell. Sore throat is most often seen with the common cold. Symptoms of the common cold also tend to include sneezing, watery eyes, and post-nasal drip. Because of these symptoms, the common cold is often confused with allergies. Allergy symptoms, however, do not include sore throat but may include itchy eyes.

Are you even more confused now? The best advice is to get your flu shot this year to reduce your chance of getting the flu. It is hoped that with all of us avoiding crowded spaces, distancing, masking, and hand washing, all three—COVID, flu, and cold—will be less frequent this winter…but we will be indoors more than we have been. Most importantly, if you start to develop any symptoms at all, stay home, isolate yourself, and if you can, be tested for COVID. Testing should be much more accessible in the coming months, and hopefully, there will be a vaccine by the spring.