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Do You Have Coronavirus Or Seasonal Allergies? Here’s How To Tell

There are ways to determine if your symptoms are related to allergies or COVID-19, experts said.

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DOWNTOWN — Allergy season has always been annoying, but this year it’s downright scary.

As plants start to bloom, releasing pollen into the air, people are coughing, sneezing and wheezing — and worried they may have coronavirus, said Dr. Baiju Malde, an allergist with Northwestern Medical Group.

“The big question people have is, I can’t decide if I have COVID-19 or seasonal allergies,'” Malde said. “Both patients and friends are calling me on that.”

There can be overlap with symptoms of allergies and COVID-19, including a cough and fatigue. But there are ways to tell if those symptoms mean one thing or another, and there are other symptoms that will rule out allergies or COVID-19, experts said.

A cough brought on by allergies is reminiscent of clearing your throat, while a COVID-19 cough is “harsher and deeper,” Malde said.

Allergy sufferers might feel some fatigue, but it’s likely not in the same realm as those with COVID-19. Some reports have shown that coronavirus can cause extreme fatigue and weakness, where even reading can be exhausting.

Allergy symptoms differ from COVID-19 symptoms in that they typically consist of a runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes, said Dr. Richard Novak, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Illinois at Chicago. A fever, however, is associated with COVID-19 and not with seasonal allergies, Malde said.

There is reason to believe that allergy sufferers don’t have it so bad right now. Pollen counts in the area are moderate-to-low, but stay at home measures might also be helping, Malde said.

The fact that people are venturing out less and wearing masks when they do suggests that pollens could be less aggravating to those with seasonal allergies, she said. On the other hand, those who suffer from indoor allergens like pet hair could have it worse, since they are confined to the indoors.

If a person is still unsure if they are suffering from COVID-19 or allergies, they can always seek out a doctor’s advice. Most doctors are offering telemedicine right now and can probably provide insight on the problem, Malde said.

Or, people can seek out a coronavirus test to get to the bottom of their symptoms, Novak said.

“If you have a symptom, and you’re really worried, go through a drive through center and get tested,” he said. “That’s one way of alleviating concern.”  

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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