Is It Coronavirus or Allergies? How to Tell the Difference

March 11, 2020

Hearing anyone sneeze or cough these days can be an anxiety-inducing situation.

While coronavirus fears have people taking extra precautions to stay healthy, seeing someone with the sniffles may not be your worst nightmare come to life after all.

As the spread of COVID-19 continues around the world, this time of year also sees the return of seasonal allergies with an increase of pollen in the air. For the more than 50 million Americans who suffer from allergies (and those that live and work near them), it could lead to heightened paranoia.

So rather than panic, it’s important to know the difference between coronavirus and allergy symptoms.

“One of the things to know with COVID-19: Runny nose is rarely a component of the illness,” Dr. Marta Feldmesser, chief of medicine of infectious diseases at Lenox Hill Hospital, told the New York Post. “So if people [around you] start sneezing, that’s not something that should trigger concerns.”

According to the CDC, the main symptoms of coronavirus are a fever, a dry cough, and shortness of breath. The symptoms also tend to appear 2-14 days after exposure.

While the typical signs of allergies include sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and in some cases a cough.

But simply hearing a cough shouldn’t send you straight into DEFCON 1 panic mode.

“If somebody gets a cough and it’s relatively mild, then monitor it and see if they develop fever,” Feldmesser added. “If they develop fever, then there’s more of a concern.”

Individuals who start exhibiting coronavirus symptoms should call their doctors to discuss follow-up steps and/or testing.

Medical professionals also advise not to show up to your doctor’s office in person as you could be putting other patients at risk, especially the elderly or others with compromised immune systems.

According to a February report in JAMA, most people who had coronavirus are adults over the age of 50. It’s not entirely clear why yet, but kids don’t seem to be getting the virus at alarming rates.

In the meantime, the CDC continues to instruct everyone to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers (if you can find any!) with at least 60% alcohol.

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