Is it COVID-19 or allergies? How to tell the difference

Published: May. 15, 2020 at 2:10 PM EDT
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It's shaping up to be a tough allergy season. And with the coronavirus spreading, trying to figure out whether your symptoms are allergies or COVID-19 is making many people anxious and stressed. Here's how to tell the difference.

Nicole Levin suspects she had the coronavirus in March, but she wasn't sure at first if it was just her usual seasonal allergies coming on.

"I followed my treatment plan for allergies for two days and my cough got worse. And I was starting to get a fever. And then I had extreme nausea, which I never get with allergies. It was like the most bizarre thing," she said.

With allergies and the coronavirus having some overlapping symptoms, many allergy and asthma sufferers are stressing about what's what.

"Dry cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, nasal congestion, headache, you know, you can see with both of them. But usually what we tell our patients, you know, to reassure them is usually with coronavirus, you'll have a fever," said Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist with the Allergy & Asthma Network.

Parikh says nausea, diarrhea and muscle aches can also be symptoms of coronavirus and are not usually from allergies.

"If your throat is itchy and your nose is itchy, you know, that's a little bit reassuring that it might be more likely to be the allergies rather than the coronavirus," she said.

Levin is making sure she takes her medications regularly and has this advice for others.

"You need to be smart about your treatment just like you always are. If you have chronic allergies and asthma like I do, and they're a pain, you need to know how to control them and then to know whether you need to take further action," she said.

And while it's not easy in the middle of a pandemic, she says she tries to stay calm because that can make some symptoms worse.

Patients with chronic lung diseases like asthma are at higher risk for severe COVID-19, so doctors say keeping asthma well controlled is critical.