June 13, 2022

Is It Allergies, Flu or Something Else?

Allergies and the flu share several symptoms, making both conditions difficult to self-diagnose.

The biggest difference between allergies and the flu is that the flu is a virus that you can catch from others; allergies can’t be “caught” and are caused by the immune system overreacting to harmless allergens.

You may want to visit your doctor for a diagnosis, since spreading the flu to others may be harmful.

Since the flu and allergies also share symptoms with COVID-19, you may be required to quarantine or get a negative COVID test. Your doctor may be able to perform a simple flu test at the same time as a COVID test.

Dry Cough With Itchy Throat? Diagnosing Common Allergy and Flu Symptoms

Diagnosing allergy and flu symptoms are two completely different procedures. Allergy symptoms strike during allergy seasons or when you’re exposed to environmental allergens; flu symptoms may arise if you’ve caught the flu virus.

Your doctor may ask you a series of questions before doing a flu test, though you may need to take either a flu test or a COVID test to rule out either condition.

Common Allergy Symptoms

It’s no wonder allergies are often confused with the cold, flu or coronavirus! All three of these conditions share similar symptoms.

Common allergy symptoms may include:

  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Inflammation
  • Itchy nose and eyes
  • Redness
  • Runny nose
  • Sinus pressure
  • Watery eyes

These symptoms generally arise after you’ve come in contact with trigger allergens. Symptoms may last for several hours to several days after allergen contact.

Allergy symptoms may be more severe when you come into direct contact with them, if areas with highly-concentrated allergens have poor air circulation, or if you live in an area of the country with high pollution counts or low air quality.

Common Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms are very similar to allergy symptoms, though there are a few symptoms the flu doesn’t share with allergies.

Common flu symptoms may include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Head congestion
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Sweating
  • Swelling

Common flu symptoms that are not usually symptoms of allergies may include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Chills
  • Dehydration (though, many allergy medications may cause dehydration)
  • Fever
  • Nausea

Is it allergies or the flu? Treating Flu Symptoms

There are many ways to treat flu symptoms; talk to your doctor before self-diagnosing your symptoms as flu symptoms or before treating your symptoms, as symptoms may be more serious or indicative of more serious conditions.

Get a Flu Test

The only way to determine if your symptoms are caused by the flu or allergies (or something else) is by getting a flu test.

You may be able to order a flu test at your doctor’s office or at a local urgent care center. These tests are virtually painless (though they are somewhat uncomfortable). A medical professional may insert a swab into your nostril to take a sample.

Rapid test results may be available within 15 minutes of taking the test; culture results may take longer to process. If taking a culture test, quarantine while waiting for results to avoid infecting others.

Stay Home

If you have the flu, it’s important to stay home — both to rest and to prevent spreading the virus to others (especially those who may have preexisting conditions or who may be more vulnerable).

Resting may help your body fight the infection faster. You may also find you need to stay home because it may be too difficult to walk, drive or function on a basic level while fighting off the flu.

Your doctor may recommend that you force liquids, eat foods high in vitamins or take supplements to help your body fight infection.

Take Flu and Cold Meds

Most medical professionals recommend taking flu and cold medicine to help ease the symptoms of the virus.

Flu and cold medications may include cough suppressants, decongestants or pain relievers. Some doctors may also recommend taking these medications to ease the symptoms of allergies, too.

If you’re really sick, your doctor may prescribe antivirals to help fight off the flu virus. These antivirals may include:

  • Baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza)
  • Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
  • Peramivir (Rapivab)
  • Zanamivir (Relenza)

If you’ve been diagnosed with the flu, your doctor may not recommend antibiotics, as this type of medication treats bacterial infections, not viruses.

Preventing the Flu

The flu is (mostly) a preventable condition. Though you may not be able to totally avoid the flu virus, there are ways you may be able to reduce the risk of catching the flu.

Wearing a mask, getting the flu shot, practicing good hygiene and avoiding others who are sick are three effective ways to prevent catching the flu.

While we’re all used to washing our hands and avoiding those who show symptoms of the flu, wearing a mask might be a new behavior (thanks to the coronavirus) that has added a layer of protection between our bodies and the flu.

And just as the COVID-19 vaccine greatly reduces the risk of contracting COVID, the flu vaccine may also be able to prevent you from contracting certain strains of the flu.

Treating Allergy Symptoms

Unlike with the flu, you may not need to quarantine if you’re suffering from allergies.

You can’t spread allergies to others, as an allergic reaction is simply the immune system overreacting to harmless substances (allergens). Yet, many doctors treat allergy symptoms similarly to how they treat flu symptoms: with medication and avoidance.

Get an Allergy Test

Your doctor may be able to diagnose you with allergies — even if you don’t get tested for them. Yet, you probably won’t be able to determine which allergens are causing your symptoms.

Allergy tests may test for dozens of possible allergies. These tests may be available at a doctor’s office, a testing facility or at home. Curex’s at-home allergy test can test for more than 40 types of allergens.

Skin-scratch allergy tests may test for up to 50 different allergies.

Avoid Allergens

One of the most effective ways to avoid allergy symptoms is to avoid the allergens that cause them.

If you suffer from outdoor allergies, such as ragweed, grass, and pollen allergies, you may want to simply avoid going outdoors on days where allergen counts are high.

Most weather apps and websites post local pollen and pollution counts if you want to know what allergens are in the air today. You may want to stay indoors if these counts are high. If you do need to go outside, remove all pollen-soaked clothing before returning indoors. Take a shower before bed if to remove any pollen lingering on your skin and hair.

If you suffer from indoor allergens, you may want to invest in HEPA filters for your vacuum, fans, air conditioners, air purifiers and HVAC system. These filters have proven to be effective at catching allergen particles or prevent them from becoming airborne in your home.

In the late summer and autumn, avoid doing yard work or handling organic material, as mold and fungus growth are more abundant during these seasons.

Take Allergy Meds

Sometimes it’s just not possible to avoid allergens.

Staying indoors during the spring and summer, steering clear from pet dander when you’re a dog-lover and avoiding organic material when you’re a gardener doesn’t really make sense.

In these cases, you may simply want to prevent symptoms by taking allergy medications.

Antihistamines may be administered orally or in a nasal spray or eye drops and are available both over the counter and by prescription. Nasal sprays are available by prescription only and saline sprays and drops are available over the counter.

All three allergy medications have been proven effective in reducing or preventing allergy symptoms.

Try Allergy Immunotherapy

Allergy immunotherapy may help reduce the symptoms of allergies by addressing the root cause of histamine release.

When an allergen enters your body, your immune system sees it as a threat and attacks by releasing histamines. These histamines may do more harm than good in this case, causing uncomfortable allergy symptoms, such as inflammation, itching, sneezing, watering and more.

Allergy immunotherapy introduces a small amount of an allergen to the body on a regular basis. Over time, the immune system may stop considering allergens a threat and release less histamine (or stop releasing histamine altogether).

Subcutaneous Allergy Immunotherapy

The most common form of allergy immunotherapy in the U.S. is subcutaneous immunotherapy (otherwise known as allergy shots).

Allergy shots may be administered at a doctor’s office (usually weekly during the build-up phase and then monthly during the maintenance phase). Medical professionals may require you to remain for observation for anaphylaxis for up to 45 minutes after administering your dose.

Sublingual Allergy Immunotherapy

Sublingual allergy immunotherapy is administered orally, usually underneath the tongue. Doses are usually administered once daily, usually in the morning.

Since there is less risk of anaphylaxis with sublingual allergy immunotherapy, doses may be self-administered at home.

Sublingual allergy immunotherapy has been proven to be just as effective as allergy shots and has been used widely in Europe (particularly in France).

To find out if you’re a good candidate for allergy immunotherapy, take our free allergy quiz, or make an appointment to chat with one of our care managers.

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