Symptom season: Differentiating COVID-19 from flu, allergies

COVID-19 has heightened many people's awareness of any and all symptoms -- be it a headache or cough. But whether those symptoms are caused by the coronavirus is a question that one Brown Deer doctor has been getting frequently this season.

Dr. Robert Kitsis with Ascension Medical Group -- Brown Deer, like many family doctors this season, is seeing patients that are unsure what is causing their symptoms -- and they're not alone.

"It’s been a very common question," Kitsis said. 

On the cusp of flu season, with fall allergies in full swing, and no end in sight for the state's uptick in COVID-19 cases, a sniffle here or a sneeze there might be leaving you on edge.

"The leaves are blowing around, there’s mold in the leaves, but ragweed is the big one," Kitsis said. "The common allergy symptoms are the watery eyes, itchy eyes, the sniffles or the scratchy or itchy throat or mouth."

Is there a way to differentiate common allergies from COVID-19? Kitsis said it's "really tough." If you get allergies this time of year, every year, it's "pretty safe" to think that it's allergies.

COVID-19 testing site in Wisconsin

Still, Kitsis has been testing patients for COVID-19 anyway — and says recognizing the difference between COVID-19 and influenza is even harder.

"The top symptoms of COVID and the flu are the same, it’s the fatigue, the muscle aches, the fever," said Kitsis. 

But, there is one to note, though not everyone with COVID-19 experiences it: "With the flu, you don’t have the loss of taste or the loss of smell you do have with COVID," Kitsis said. 

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Kitsis encourages anyone with symptoms to chat with their doctor. He also reminds us that now is the perfect time to get your flu shot. 

"The flu shot will not prevent COVID virus, but it can ramp up your immune system and help you fight other respiratory viruses," said Kitsis.

Kitsis also said that social distancing, hand washing and mask-wearing will not only help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but also the flu.

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