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These tips will help you figure out if you have a cold, the flu, cedar fever or COVID

As cedar fever season begins for many across Texas, there are still many other sicknesses you might catch. Here's how to tell the difference between them.

TEXAS, USA — People across the country are oftentimes more likely to get sick during the winter months. Many Texans, specifically, have to deal with what is known as cedar fever.

So how can you tell the difference between having cedar fever, COVID-19, the flu or a common cold? Here are some tips to help figure out what you might have caught.

Cedar fever

Cedar fever is when someone is having a severe allergic reaction to the pollen that comes from Ashe juniper trees. Cedar pollen is usually released in December and lasts until February, crossing over with flu season.

Dr. David Corry is a professor of Medicine-Immunology, Allergy and Rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine. He said even with fever being in the title, you rarely get a fever if your allergies are acting up.

"The cedar fever is going to feel like a really bad allergy attack," Corry said. "You're going to often feel malaise."

Many of the symptoms include:

  • itchy eyes
  • watery eyes
  • runny nose
  • sore throat
  • cough

It will give you similar symptoms compared to a lot of other environmental allergies, according to Dr. Julie Trivedi. She is the medical director of infection prevention for UT Southwestern Health System.

"It's basically an allergic reaction to pollen, which many of us can get at different times of the year," Trivedi said.

One of the best ways to figure out if you likely have cedar fever compared to COVID-19 is if your mucus is clear, according to Texas A&M Forest Service biologist Robert Edmonson.

“Then it’s an allergy," Edmonson said. "If it’s got color, then it’s probably a cold or the flu.”

The source of most of this pollen comes from the central Texas area. It is worst west of I-35, according to Texas A&M Forest Service woodland ecologist Karl Flocke. 

RELATED: Cedar fever? Or coronavirus? Doctor explains how symptoms are the same — and different

"Cedar fever is a bit of a misnomer because it typically does not cause a fever and it's not caused by cedars," Flocke said. "When that pollen enters your body, it triggers a histamine response just like really any kind of allergic reaction."

Because of the size of juniper trees and how many of them are in Texas, this allows the pollen to spread far beyond just the central area.

"You can get it anywhere in Texas because the pollen is windblown," Flocke said. "It can really travel long distances. They've tracked problem from Central Texas all the way up to Tulsa, Oklahoma."

There are many ways to handle cedar fever if you believe you have it. You can treat it similar to many other allergy issues. Standard antihistamine medication is a common first step, Corry said. You might also use nasal steroids or rinse your nose out with salt and water by means of a neti pot.

RELATED: Yes, you’ll need to make a request to get a free at-home COVID-19 test from the government

COVID-19

COVID-19 is an illness caused by catching a coronavirus. This is generally spread through close contact from person to person. 

The three main ways the CDC says this can happen include:

  • Breathing air when close to an infected person who is exhaling small droplets and particles that contain the virus.
  • Having these small droplets and particles land on the eyes, nose, or mouth, especially through splashes and sprays like a cough or sneeze.
  • Touching eyes, nose, or mouth with hands that have the virus on them.

While symptoms can vary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say people with COVID-19 may have these symptoms:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

RELATED: Unvaccinated man with health issues in Harris County becomes first known omicron death in US

Different variants of COVID-19 can also be more likely to give you certain symptoms. On Monday, federal health officials said omicron is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week.

Based on preliminary studies, the omicron variant is not attacking respiratory systems in the same way earlier variants did. It's more frequently giving people sore throat, runny noses and coughs. These symptoms are similar to the common cold. It doesn't give people itchy or watery eyes.

"Early on in the pandemic, we were seeing much more distinctive COVID symptoms with fever, loss of taste and smell," Trivedi said. "Cough, significant muscle aches and fatigue. I think that over time, symptoms have continued to evolve."

There are currently four main treatments for a COVID-19 infection:

  • antiviral pills
  • monoclonal antibodies
  • Remdesivir (antiviral drug)
  • convalescent plasma

RELATED: What are the 4 main treatments for COVID-19?

Flu

Influenza, more commonly called the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus, according to the CDC.

The four types of flu viruses are A, B, C and D. Human influenza A and B are the main types that spread during the winter season in the United States.

This illness impacts someone's nose, throat, and in some cases, the lungs. It is most commonly spread through tiny droplets that are released when someone coughs, sneezes or talks. This transmission is similar to COVID-19 and the common cold.

Unlike the common cold, the flu usually comes on much faster. And unlike cedar fever, the flu regularly causes someone to have a fever or feel feverish. However, similar to cedar fever, the flu can cause you to feel tired.

While symptoms can vary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say people with COVID-19 may have these symptoms:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle or body aches
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)

There are prescription antiviral drugs to help treat the flu. While the COVID-19 antiviral drug Remdesivir was just recently approved by the FDA, the first federally-approved antiviral compound for the flu came in 1966.

RELATED: Mom meets newborn son for first time after fighting COVID-19

Common cold

The common cold, also known as simply a cold, is a viral infectious disease mainly impacting someone's nose, throat and sinuses. 

While the cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses, flu is caused by the influenza viruses only. The cold can be caused by different viruses. Some of the more common ones are rhinoviruses, parainfluenza, and seasonal coronaviruses.

Similar to cedar fever, COVID-19 and the flu, having a cold can cause coughing, a runny nose and a sore throat.

According to the CDC, symptoms generally include:

  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • headaches
  • body aches

While there isn't a direct cure when you have a cold, getting rest and drinking fluids can help you feel better, according to the CDC. 

There are medicines to make symptoms not as severe but nothing to make the illness go away quicker. Antibiotics can't help you get over a cold because it's a respiratory virus, the CDC says.

A step health officials recommend taking no matter what you have or think you have is to consult your health physician or to talk to a doctor.