COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The “October crud” is here, and it can be difficult to determine if it’s allergies, a cold, flu, COVID, or even just dry air from indoor heating systems causing the symptoms.

“The biggest things are looking at systemic symptoms … so fatigue, fevers, chills, those types of things. That leads us down the path of like the COVID or flu diagnosis,” said OhioHealth family and sports medicine physician Ben Bring. “Where sneezing, itching, kind of runny nose, watery eyes, those are more towards the allergies type of symptoms.”

Dr. Bring says luckily, COVID-19 and flu testing are readily available currently to also help determine the type of virus your body is fighting.

“Distinguishing between flu and COVID can be very difficult, because they do have a lot of similar overlapping symptoms. Especially with these new variants that are coming out too with COVID. They tend to present a little bit differently as well,” Dr. Bring said.

According to the CDC, influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) first identified in 2019. Flu is caused by infection with a flu virus which is predicted to be “nasty” this year. The best way to protect yourself from both viruses is to get vaccinated now, doctors say.

“We tend to look at how Australia did in the wintertime, and they had a pretty rough flu season, so definitely get your flu shots this year as well. Those vaccines will help keep you out of the hospital. They may not prevent you from getting the vet the viruses but it will definitely keep you from getting very very sick,” Dr. Bring said.

To help keep the viruses from spreading as best as possible, Dr. Bring says to stay home and keep your kids at home if you’re having to take medications to keep a fever down or if you feel lethargic or tired from sickness. And while doing at-home treatments, try to keep the humidity up in your house.

“This time of year, the humidity drops quite a bit, too, so you can get that really cold dry air, which can dry out the nasal passages. That can actually cause some early sinus symptoms as well,” Dr. Bring said. “I recommend to a lot of patients utilizing humidifiers, which can work really well. If you don’t have access to a humidifier, you can actually go into your bathroom, shut the door, turn the shower up really hot, and just kind of use it as a steam room in that way, especially with kids with respiratory viruses, that steam can really help those kids breathe as well. So humidifiers, especially during virus season can help kids out quite a bit as well.”