COVID-19, Flu, Allergies or a Cold? A Helpful Guide to Knowing the Difference-old

August 26, 2021

In Southern California, flu season seems to last longer and longer each year. Thanks to drier winters and less rain, allergy season starts earlier every year. And now, our nation is justifiably worried about COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus.

If you’ve got a sniffly nose, a sore throat, and a fever, you may not be 100% sure what you have. We’re here with information that will hopefully put your worries at ease, and help you determine what kind of care you need.

Cold

COVID-19 vs. the Flu (influenza)

When we started to learn about COVID-19, many people compared it to influenza, most commonly known as the flu, in terms of symptoms and how it spreads. Both are infectious respiratory illnesses, but they’re caused by entirely different viruses.

Both illnesses cause fever, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, body aches, fatigue, and even vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms can be mild or severe and turn into pneumonia. Both can be fatal.

It may be possible for a sick person to have symptoms so mild, they don’t realize they have the disease, and so they may walk around spreading the virus to healthy people.

Both can be spread from person to person from the droplets that come from sneezing, coughing or even talking.

Vaccinations are highly effective at preventing the flu and COVID-19. That’s why we strongly recommend everyone in your family get their shots every year. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective. It is free and available for everyone age twelve and older. If you have already received your COVID-19 vaccination, check with your physician or primary care provider about a potential booster shot. The Center for Disease Control is currently recommending a booster vaccination for moderate to severely immunosuppressed individuals.

Coronavirus vs. Allergies

Allergy symptoms are usually quite different from COVID-19 symptoms. Unlike COVID-19, which is a virus, allergies are your immune system’s response to a foreign substance. Allergy symptoms include itchy or runny nose, rashes or itchy skin, and watery eyes. In extreme cases of anaphylactic shock, your air passage shuts down, and it rapidly becomes difficult to breathe. Difficulty breathing is also a symptom of COVID-19, but with allergies, the onset is almost immediately after encountering a specific trigger.

Allergies aren’t contagious like a COVID-19, cold or flu, so there’s no chance of spreading it from one person to the next. Allergies do have a genetic component, which is why it may seem like other people in your family have them at the same time you do. Unless you do allergy testing and shots, your best method for preventing allergic reactions is to keep an allergy diary and then stay away from your triggers.

You can usually treat allergy symptoms with common, over-the-counter remedies, such as antihistamines, decongestants, and medicated lotions to help relieve itchy rashes and hives.

COVID-19 vs. the Common Cold

Mild cases of COVID-19 may be mistaken for a cold. Because many of the symptoms are the same, it can be tough to tell the difference. Experts say that if your first symptoms included a sore throat and runny nose, it’s likely just a cold. A fever could be a sign that it’s something more than a cold.

The common cold is famously difficult to prevent. But following the same protocol for COVID-19 should help protect you. 

  • Follow local and state safety guidelines.
  • Wear a face mask when indoors or in crowds to protect yourself and others.
  • Maintain hand hygiene — use hand sanitizer to clean hands frequently, and wash hands for 20 seconds at a time. 
  • Practice physical distancing — stay six feet apart from others whether inside or outside. 
  • Wipe down any surfaces you touch.

There’s not much you can do for a cold. Time-tested advice includes getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, using a humidifier, and taking age-appropriate over-the-counter remedies.

Cold

When Should I Go to the Doctor?

First off, the good news is that about 80% of COVID-19 cases resolve quickly on their own when the person stays home, gets rest, and treats the symptoms.

Unless your symptoms get dramatically worse or you feel short of breath, you may not need to seek treatment (though it's OK to call your doctor and ask). AltaMed is advising our patients to treat mild symptoms just like you would treat a cold by staying home, taking over-the-counter cold treatments like Tylenol, ibuprofen, or Nyquil. Avoid other people until your symptoms go away for at least 72 hours without having to take these medications.

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, please confirm with your doctor the timing of when you are no longer contagious.

To learn more about COVID-19 precautions, treatments, and news, bookmark our FAQ page.

Sign Up for COVID-19 Updates

Sign up to receive email updates on the information that matters to you and those you love.

Stay on Guard as Deadly Delta Variant Cases Rise

July 12, 2021

Millions of residents in Los Angeles and Orange County have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine against COVID-19. Now a more contagious, deadlier strain of the virus —Delta — is spreading across the country and affecting those who have not been fully vaccinated.

Having at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines provides limited protection, but only fully vaccinated individuals are well protected from the Delta variant.

The alarming number of new infections from this highly contagious version of the coronavirus has prompted the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to strongly recommend wearing a mask indoors to stay protected. Now is not the time for communities to lower their guard as the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 continues.

Microscope Delta

What is a variant?

Viruses are always mutating. Think about the flu virus. There is a different strain to fight each year because it is constantly changing.

The same is happening with the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently tracking four variants in the United States:

  • Alpha — This was first discovered in the United Kingdom. It was detected in the U.S. in December 2020.
  • Beta — This first appeared in South Africa in December. It appeared in the U.S. in January 2021.
  • Gamma — This was discovered in Japan in early January, carried by travelers from Brazil. It showed up in the U.S. later that month.
  • Delta — This was identified in India in December of last year. The first U.S. case appeared in March 2021.

These variants are the most contagious and, left unchecked, can put a remarkable strain on the health care system which may ultimately lead to more deaths.

Delta

Stopping the spread

No matter how much we would like to, we can’t go back to how our lives were before the pandemic yet. The Delta variant has the potential to spark new outbreaks across the United States and around the world.

  • Get vaccinated — Vaccines are the fastest and most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Give vaccines time to work — It takes about two weeks for your immune system to be protected.
  • Use caution in group gatherings — The safest social gatherings are those where all participants have been fully vaccinated.
  • Masks protect against new strains — The coronavirus needs new hosts in order to mutate. Masks help prevent infections and therefore lower the risk of new variants developing.

Delta

Don’t ease up

For now, if you have been fully vaccinated:

  • You still need to follow local and state safety guidelines.
  • Wear a face mask when indoors or in crowds to protect yourself and others.
  • Maintain hand hygiene — use hand sanitizer to clean hands frequently, and wash hands for 20 seconds at a time.
  • Practice physical distancing — stay six feet apart from others whether inside or outside.
  • Wipe down any surfaces you touch.

For more information about the vaccine or testing, please visit AltaMed.org or call our vaccine hotline at (888) 909-5232. Find a vaccine event happening in your community here.

Allergy Care Options You Can Practice Yourself

June 28, 2021

Seasonal allergies negatively affect more than 50 million Americans each year. Sneezing, sniffling, coughing, runny noses, and watery eyes are the body’s way of reacting to the mold spores and pollen that get carried through the air each season in Southern California.

Rain often offers sufferers a break from allergens, but the drought makes allergy season last longer and the effects are stronger than normal.

There are a number of over-the-counter options for the symptoms of seasonal allergies, but there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure and find some relief.

Allergies Dog Wash

Limit exposure to pollen

Limiting pollen exposure may seem hard to do since it’s everywhere and it’s not always visible. The great news is that pollen is outside. So, if you can keep the pollen out of your home, you can reduce its effects on you.

  • Keep windows closed — Most pollination occurs between 4 and 6 a.m. With that in mind, it’s also better to stay indoors if you can until about 10 a.m. to let the pollen settle.
  • Shower each night — You’ll naturally pick up pollen on your clothing throughout the day, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. By showering as soon as you get home, you can limit its spread throughout your house.
  • Change your hair product — Some hair products can act like a magnet for pollen. If it’s sticky, it can attract allergens to you, making you miserable. Try switching it up.
  • Change air filters — You should change your air conditioning filters at least once a month. You might want to do it more frequently during allergy season.
  • Bathe your pets — Pets pick up pollen just like you do. Allergy season may require more frequent bathing for your fur babies.

Allergies Kitchen

Fortify yourself

Diet can play a role in your body’s ability to fight off some of the effects of seasonal allergies. Foods that are rich in antioxidants — fruits, vegetables, and some nuts — can help your body fight against inflammation in your nasal passages. But be cautious when trying new foods or supplements, in case you happen to have a food allergy.

Other nutritional options include:

  • Probiotics — Researchers are just scratching the surface on how gut health affects overall health. Some studies with regard to allergies have been promising but there is nothing conclusive.
  • Honey — The belief is that locally sourced honey is full of local pollen which, when eaten over time, will eventually reduce your sensitivity to the pollen in your area.
  • Oily fish — The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can help decrease the narrowing of airways caused by some seasonal allergies, as well as asthma.

Allergies Neti Pot

Other measures

Using a simple saline spray can help keep your nasal passages clear and can help stop sneezing. Some people like using a neti pot to rinse their nasal passages with warm salt water. The important thing is to use bottled distilled water and to make sure to keep the pot clean to avoid the risk of infection or illness.

Helping you through allergy season

If you are suffering from seasonal allergies, our doctors and pharmacists can make recommendations about effective over-the-counter treatments. Depending on the severity of your allergies, we can also prescribe medications or recommend you to a specialist.

AltaMed is here to help you get control of your seasonal allergies. Use our tool to find the care you need to grow healthy year-round.