LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A cough, fatigue and runny nose are all symptoms of COVID-19, but they're also common symptoms of allergies, the flu, the common cold and a sinus infection.
So if you're feeling those symptoms, should you get tested for COVID-19 or the flu? Or is it allergies, which can be helped by over-the-counter medication?
The short answer is yes, get tested for COVID-19 and flu because early detection keeps one and their community safe. Plus, the earlier an illness is detected, the more opportunities there are for treatment to help reduce the severity of said illness.
What You Need To Know
- Since symptoms of influenza, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses are similar, the difference between them can’t be made based on symptoms alone
- Testing is required to confirm a diagnosis of an illness, according to the CDC
- Early detection of any illness helps provide more options for treatment
- Any time one has a symptom out of the ordinary, it is recommended to get tested for COVID-19 and the flu
Since high school, 33-year-old Brittany Adams said she's had recurrent sinus infections.
“Usually I get like a steroid shot or a Z-Pack, and I’m good,” Adams said, toward the start of her walk-in appointment at a Norton Prompt Care at a Louisville Walgreens.
After four days of an itchy throat, clogged ears and red, itchy eyes, Adams booked an appointment with a doctor.
“I was one of those bad patients like, ‘This is what I’ve got.’ She’s like, ‘Nope, that’s associated with this new strain [omicron] and everything. They are showing up as signs of a sinus infection,” Adams explained.
That doctor told Adams to go get tested for COVID-19 because that doctor’s office didn’t offer it. Adams said the doctor wouldn’t prescribe anything for her potential sinus infection until it was certain she wasn’t positive for COVID-19.
Norton Prompt Care Nurse Practitioner Amy Doolittle-Crider said most of her days are spent seeing patients like Adams – patients who don’t know if their symptoms are related to allergies, a sinus infection, the common cold, flu or COVID-19.
“It’s very difficult to determine, just by looking at someone, which one I am dealing with because with [COVID-19], the symptoms are all over the place, and they are the same types of symptoms,” Crider explained. “I do find that my flu cases tend to run the fevers more.”
Crider also added that living in the Ohio Valley Region also comes with allergies. That, coupled with recent warmer temperatures, hasn’t helped.
“That can just even brew up your allergies, but being in the pandemic, being cold and flu season, I think anytime you develop something that’s out of the ordinary, you definitely need to get checked,” Crider told Adams.
During a rundown of questions asked by Crider, Adams said she's never had COVID-19. Adams also said, to her knowledge, she hasn’t been exposed to COVID-19. In addition, she didn't get tested for COVID-19 in the past two weeks.
Adams is usually at home all day as a full-time, virtual student at Grambling State University. Plus, she's home a lot because she has a two-year-old son.
However, Adams also said she started going to the gym recently. In addition, her girlfriend is a travel nurse at a long-term care facility in Louisville.
Plus, they recently drove to Florida for a family gathering for Thanksgiving.
Adams said she did get vaccinated against the flu two weeks prior to this visit, but she has never been vaccinated against COVID-19.
With the info gathered, Crider decided to test Adams for COVID-19 and the flu, since Norton Prompt Care offers a rapid test that looks for both viruses at the same time with results in 20 minutes.
Anyone who has been exposed to the flu or COVID-19 needs to get tested, Crider said. She also said having any out of the ordinary symptoms, such as someone with seasonal allergies getting a fever or a normally healthy person feeling more fatigued than normal, also calls for a flu and COVID-19 test.
Crider said the benefit of getting tested isn’t just to confirm a diagnosis, but it also offers early detection, which provides more options for treatment.
“So if we have someone that’s diagnosed with the flu, and if it’s within 48 hours of the diagnosis, I can put them on an antiviral to help that virus from hopefully replicating, and get them jumped back and feeling better quickly,” Crider explained. “And with [COVID-19], if they come in fairly quickly, and we can identify that, I can order monoclonal antibody therapy, if they are a candidate for that.”
After 20 minutes from taking a nasal swab sample, Adams COVID-19 and flu test revealed she doesn’t have influenza, but she is positive for COVID-19.
The news welled up her eyes with tears.
“My number one concern is not even for myself, it’s for my 2-year-old. I’m just devastated; I want to cry for him,” she said.
Adams didn’t have the COVID-19 vaccine, but with this unplanned news, she now has a new plan because of her son.
“Yea, I’ll get vaccinated just to protect my kid…because I can’t risk that. It’s not fair to him. It’s so unfair. He has no choice. So as a mom, you don’t think about yourself; you think about your kid. Now, I feel horrible,” Adams said.
The good news, Crider told Adams she is young and healthy. Therefore, she should be able to fight COVID-19 successfully.
Crider recommended that people with sinus infections or allergies get routinely tested for COVID-19, given their ever-present symptoms, some of which overlap with flu and COVID-19. She added that anyone who doesn’t have those illnesses, but develops any kind of symptom associated with a viral infection, should also get tested.