NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Feeling feverish, achy? Got a cough? Or maybe your eyes are itchy and you’re sneezing.

Maybe it’s just a cold but, could it be the flu or allergies? The difference could be serious if it is the flu.

CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez helps us tell the difference.

We are off and running for flu season. New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut are all reporting high levels of flu activity – but it’s also cold season.

The differences between the two could be important because the complications of the flu can be lethal.

This season got off to an early and unusual start, with flu “B” viruses dominating. Those viruses tend to affect children and usually aren’t seen until spring.

So far, there have been at least 6.4 million illnesses, 55,000 hospitalizations, and 2,900 deaths from flu.

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“The hospitalizations and pneumonia and influenza mortality is not elevated right now… But that is what you would expect to see when you have a lot of children ill, and not a lot of elderly ill,” Lynnette Brammer, an epidemiologist with the influenza division of the CDC said.

It’s also cold season and there are winter allergies too.

Donna Monte-Probst is a nurse so you would think she’d be able to tell the difference between a cold, allergies, and the flu, but her symptoms have even her a little confused.

“Runny nose, watery eyes, a little congestion, sometimes I’m sneezing, a dry cough,” Monte-Probst said.

Sometimes even doctors can have a bit of a hard time. Here’s some general differences…

“For allergies and colds, the symptoms are almost identical. Flu is a little easier because there’s high fevers, usually over 101, lots of fatigue, can’t get out of bed, but allergies and colds are very similar,” Dr. Erick Eiting from Mount Sinai Beth Israel said.

The main things that tells you it’s probably the flu is the sudden onset of symptoms including:

  • Fever above 101 degrees
  • Intense muscle and body aches and headache
  • Deep fatigue, where it’s hard to get out of bed
  • A dry cough

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Colds and allergies are so alike when it comes to symptoms. If you have these signs, it’s more likely an allergy.

“You’re not gonna have the scratchy throat or the body aches you’ll have with cold or flu,” Dr. Eiting added.

“But an allergy is probably going to last for a while?” Dr. Max Gomez asked.

“Exactly,” Dr. Eiting replied.

In other words if you’ve had the same symptoms for a few weeks, it’s likely allergies.

As for when you should go to the doctor, if you’re feeling lightheaded, you can’t keep any food or fluids down and especially if you’re having any trouble breathing, get to the doctor or emergency room because the flu can turn into a fatal pneumonia very quickly.

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