Spring is a wonderful time of year – unless you suffer from allergies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that flu season can last into May. Just as COVID seems to be dying down, another variant may be just around the corner. With all three of these illnesses presenting some of the same symptoms, how can we tell if what we have is an allergy, the flu, or a COVID infection?
Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
Seasonal allergies are triggered each Spring by an increase in airborne allergens, like pollen. Itching is a prominent symptom, ranging from itchy, watery eyes to an itchy nose. Related postnasal drip can lead to additional symptoms that can make you think of flu and COVID, such as a sore throat and coughing
There are some notable differences in allergy symptoms, testing and treatment compared flu and COVID:
- Allergy symptoms often last longer than flu or COVID. This is especially true if you continue to be exposed to the triggering allergens.
- Formal allergy diagnoses are made by a healthcare provider, who administers a skin test.
- If you were previously diagnosed with an allergy, you can self-medicate with over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays.
- Since allergies are not contagious, you don’t need to isolate yourself if allergies are the source of your symptoms.
Flu is caused by the influenza virus and spreads in a manner similar to COVID, which is also a virus. Common flu symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, and fatigue. Flu symptoms mirror many of the symptoms of COVID infection. Both viruses can be spread to other people before symptoms are evident. One way in which they differ is that flu symptoms can appear sooner after exposure than COVID symptoms do.
Flu is diagnosed with tests available only to healthcare professionals. Due to the pandemic nature of COVID, at-home testing is available from local pharmacies and online.
COVID is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. At root of the worldwide pandemic is COVID-19, so named because this particular SARS-CoV-2 strain was discovered in 2019. COVID is a respiratory condition causing symptoms including fever, cough and fatigue. In addition to these symptoms which it shares with common flu, COVID can also cause sore throat and a runny/stuffy nose, symptoms shared with both flu and allergies. A common but unique COVID symptom that you don’t see in other illnesses is the loss of taste, smell, or both.
Due to how rapidly the COVID virus spreads and how deadly it can be to some people, it’s important to be tested if you’ve been exposed to COVID, especially if you are exhibiting symptoms. You can start with an at-home “rapid test.” (At the time of this writing, these are available by mail order free of charge from the federal government.) Or if needed, you can take a PCR test at a medical facility.
Once diagnosed with COVID, follow your doctor’s instructions to minimize transmission to others in or out of your household.
Benefit Accounts Can Help
Whether you have allergies, flu, or COVID, your benefit account(s) can help relieve cost burdens related to your illness.
For example, regardless of whether you have allergies, flu, or COVID, your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA) can be used to pay for prescriptions and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. These medications can be used to relieve symptoms or prevent secondary infections.
Also at-home COVID tests are currently available free of charge from the federal government and at no cost through your health insurance coverage. However, that may eventually change. If it does, your FSA and HSA plans can cover those as well as laboratory testing by healthcare professionals.
With allergies that come around each Spring, flu seasons that can last until May, and COVID still among us (and possibly more variants on the horizon), it’s never been more important to identify specifically what’s causing certain symptoms that the three illnesses share. Prompt medical attention is one way to achieve certainty. At-home testing can also help. Regardless of the diagnosis, follow the advice of your healthcare professional, and remember to use your FSA or HSA account to cover qualified expenses.
DataPath, Inc. is a leading provider of technology solutions for cloud-based benefits administration.