If you're wondering whether that runny nose, sore throat or sneeze is simply allergies, just a cold, or possibly signs of COVID-19, you're not alone.
With many experiencing cold-like symptoms, and with the start of spring allergies, it can be hard to decipher what could be behind the onset of symptoms.
Experts say the only real way to know the answer is to test, but until then, health officials say to treat any possible symptoms as COVID.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said last month as mitigations started to lift across the state and city that people should continue to stay home if they aren't feeling well, at least until they receive a negative COVID test.
"I think it's going to be really important that people, first of all, continue to stay home when they're sick, or at least until they've had a negative COVID test," she said during a Facebook Live before the city lifted its mask and vaccine mandates.
Although Chicago's cases are declining, public health officials have noted that a majority of cases still being seen are the omicron variant, which has sparked more of a mild illness, particularly in vaccinated individuals.
Sore throat continues to be a symptom reported, particularly in mild breakthrough infections.
Former President Barack Obama announced on social media Sunday that he has tested positive for coronavirus, but says that he is only dealing with mild symptoms from the virus and has been dealing with a scratchy throat.
“I just tested positive for COVID,” he tweeted. “I’ve had a scratchy throat for a couple days, am feeling fine otherwise. Michelle and I are grateful to be vaccinated and boosted, and she has tested negative.”
Arwady has said since the start of the omicron surge that those who feel even slightly ill should stay home and test.
"Even if it's a sore throat, no matter what it is," she said during a previous Facebook Live. "I've told my own staff this, it's what I do myself... if you are sick, even a little bit sick, stay home. More true than ever right now because sick, even a little bit sick, until proven otherwise with a test - that's COVID. That's how we treat it, that's how you should treat it."
Dr. Katherine Poehling, an infectious disease specialist and member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, told NBC News in January that a cough, congestion, runny nose and fatigue appear to be prominent symptoms with the omicron variant. But unlike the delta variant, many patients are not losing their taste or smell. She noted that these symptoms may only reflect certain populations.
Still, CDC data showed the most common symptoms are cough, fatigue, congestion and a runny nose.
Symptoms as Listed by the CDC
Overall, the symptoms for COVID reported by the CDC include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
"This list is not all possible symptoms," the CDC states. "Please call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you."
The CDC also has what it calls a "coronavirus self checker" that allows people to answer a series of questions to determine if they should seek medical care.
"The Coronavirus Self-Checker is an interactive clinical assessment tool that will assist individuals ages 13 and older, and parents and caregivers of children ages 2 to 12 on deciding when to seek testing or medical care if they suspect they or someone they know has contracted COVID-19 or has come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19," the CDC's website reads.
The CDC urges those who have or may have COVID-19 to watch for emergency warning signs and seek medical care immediately if they experience symptoms including:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone
You can also notify the operator that you believe you or someone you are caring for has COVID.
For the flu, the CDC lists the following symptoms:
- fever or feeling feverish/chills
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- muscle or body aches
- fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults
For allergies, the CDC notes that some people may experience symptoms of rhinitis and conjunctivitis. Those symptoms include:
- Symptoms from allergic rhinitis include:
- runny nose
- Symptoms from allergic conjunctivitis include:
- red, watery, or itchy eyes
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