Health Care

Coronavirus or Seasonal Allergies: How to Tell the Difference

A young man sick at home
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Every year, more than 19 million Americans experience seasonal allergies — namely, hay fever. With warmer weather upon us, you may be noticing allergy symptoms too, like a runny nose.

During the current coronavirus pandemic, any symptoms of illness may raise some alarm. Just like there are differences between the flu, a cold and coronavirus, there are key differences between seasonal allergies and coronavirus. Knowing these differences can ease your mind and help you and your family make the best health care choices.

Differences in Symptoms: Seasonal Allergies vs. COVID-19

COVID-19 shares some symptoms with other illnesses. For instance, you may develop a fever and cough with both coronavirus and the seasonal flu. But, in terms of COVID-19 and seasonal allergies, the symptoms don’t overlap much.

The main symptoms of coronavirus disease appear to be a fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath. According to the World Health Organization, some people may also have:

  • Body aches
  • Fatigue, or extreme tiredness
  • In rare cases, diarrhea, nausea and a runny nose
  • Sore throat

How are these symptoms different from seasonal allergies? If you have allergies, it’s important to note that you won’t have a fever.

You are also not likely to have a cough, body aches or chest discomfort. The most common symptoms of hay fever and other seasonal allergies are:

  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing

Symptoms Last Much Longer With Seasonal Allergies

Another key difference between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies is how long symptoms last. If you have seasonal allergies, you may have symptoms for up to six weeks. It depends on how long outdoor allergens like pollen from trees, grasses and other plants are circulating in the air near you.

In contrast, the symptoms of COVID-19 typically last a few days to a week. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that most cases start within two to 14 days after a person is exposed to the virus.

What to Do If You Have Concerning Symptoms

Despite the above differences, it may still be hard to distinguish coronavirus from other ailments, including seasonal allergies. Many people with coronavirus seem to have only mild symptoms, and some people may not have any symptoms.

The best approach during this time is to visit a Centra Care location if you or a loved one doesn’t feel well and you are concerned about the symptoms.

The physician will tell you how best to proceed. Make sure to tell the doctor if you are older than age 65 or have any underlying health conditions that may put you at risk for severe illness. These include:

  • Being immunocompromised
  • Cancer
  • Chronic lung disease or asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Diseases that cause a weakened immune system
  • Heart disease or other heart problems
  • HIV
  • Kidney failure or liver disease
  • Severe obesity (having a BMI at or over 40)

When to Get Medical Help Immediately

To help prevent the spread of coronavirus, you should avoid the hospital emergency department except in the event of a true emergency. But while most people with COVID-19 are having mild symptoms, emergency care is sometimes needed.

Call 911 if you or a loved one develops these severe symptoms:

  • Bluish lips or face
  • Confusion or inability to stay awake
  • Ongoing chest pain or pressure
  • Trouble breathing

When you call 911, tell the operator that you have or think you may have coronavirus. Otherwise, with worsening symptoms that don’t seem life-threatening, the best thing to do is call your physician first. With a phone call or video visit, your physician can advise you on what to do next.

More Answers to Your Coronavirus Questions

Staying at home is one of your best defenses against coronavirus. We’re here to help you and your family through this trying time, starting with answering your questions and offering timely coronavirus updates. For more help and information, visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub.

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