Identifying the Fearsome Four: Strep, Cold, Allergies and Flu

Sniffling. Itching. Sneezing. Coughing.

Strep throat, common colds, flu, and even allergies, can all make the rounds at the same time, wreaking havoc on your well-being. It can be difficult to figure out which of these ailments is affecting you and to decide on the proper course of treatment.

We’ve compiled a list of symptoms related to each ailment, along with some suggestions on when to seek medical attention for each.

Strep Throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection. While, as its name suggests, it primarily affects the back of the throat and the tonsils, strep throat can also cause headache and fever. For younger children, it can even present abdominal pain or rashes.

How to differentiate it
Strep throat shares symptoms with flu and cold, including sore throat, fever and fatigue; however, its most differentiating qualities are:

  • Experiencing difficulty when swallowing
  • No cough

How to treat it
If you have strep symptoms, an urgent care visit is necessary. Because strep is a bacterial infection, a physician will be able to swab your throat and test for the presence of the bacteria, then prescribe antibiotics to kill off the bacteria and put you on the road to recovery.

Common Cold

Although a cold may share some symptoms with strep throat and other maladies, its root cause is different. A cold is caused by a virus, and millions of different variations exist, which is why it can be common to catch multiple colds in a row.

For some young children, with still developing immune systems, a cold may seem to last months without much relief, but they may actually be suffering from several different variations of the cold virus back to back.

How to differentiate it
A cold includes symptoms like coughing, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, headache, and fever. It’s typically milder in severity than the flu and has a more gradual onset.

Because a cold has so many different variations and shares symptoms with each of the other illnesses, it can sometimes be identified best simply by process of elimination – if you don’t have key symptoms of the other illnesses (itchy eyes, inflamed tonsils, severe fatigue, etc.), you more than likely have a common cold.

How to treat it

Colds are caused by viruses, which means they can’t be treated with antibiotics.

If you believe you’re suffering from a cold, you can alleviate the symptoms by using pain relievers, cough syrups and nasal decongestants. However, you typically just have to let the virus run its course.

If you choose to visit an urgent care clinic, track your symptoms so you can let your physician know how long you’ve been feeling under the weather and whether your symptoms seem to be improving or getting worse as time goes on.


Many people think of allergies as a spring illness, something that strikes when plants are starting to bloom and lots of pollen is in the air.

The truth is – allergies can strike during any season. Winter culprits include dust and mountain cedar; spring is rife with tree pollen; summer is a peak time for grass pollens and molds; and fall brings ragweed.

Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the US and can greatly affect your quality of life if you are one of the unlucky people sniffling and sneezing and suffering through them.

How to differentiate it
Coughing, sneezing and sniffles are par for the course with many illnesses; however, allergies are also accompanied by itching.

An itchy nose and watery eyes are the unique symptoms that are most highly correlated with allergies. And, allergies usually aren’t accompanied by a fever, so fever symptoms might point to a different illness altogether.

How to treat it
Seasonal allergies won’t stop as long as you are in the presence of the allergen. While an urgent care visit can’t completely cure your allergy-related woes, a physician can recommend and prescribe treatments that may help alleviate your symptoms, including intra-nasal steroids and more bearable.


Like a cold, the flu is also caused by a virus. However, the flu can be especially dangerous and frightening because it can be accompanied by severe complications, including the propensity to develop pneumonia or bronchitis.

How to differentiate it
The flu and a cold can be very similar. The most common differentiators are the quick onset of symptoms, and the intensity of fever, which can often rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The flu is also typically accompanied by feelings of severe fatigue, in which you may find it difficult to even get out of bed.

How to treat it
Like a cold, the flu virus can’t be treated with antibiotics. Rest and hydration are key for treating flu symptoms, although there’s no actual cure, other than time, for the illness.

It’s important to closely monitor your symptoms and seek medical attention if you are sick for an extended period of time (more than 7 to 10 days). If you are at risk for flu complications, it can be to your benefit to see a doctor sooner; this is especially true for those with weaker immune systems, including pregnant women, young children and the elderly.

In addition, a doctor may be able to prescribe an antiviral medication (Tamiflu is a common one) to decrease the flu’s impact or hasten your recovery. Antivirals can also help prevent common complications like ear infections for children affected by the flu.

If you’re not feeling well, and you can’t quite tell which illness is affecting you, Integra Urgent Care can help. Our doctors are well-versed in reviewing symptoms and identifying which illness is most likely affecting your well-being. And, we’re ready to help you feel better and get back to your regular routine. Stop by one of our clinic locations today and don’t let these fearsome four make you suffer a minute longer than necessary.

Leave a reply