I'm Coughing and Wheezing – Do I Have Seasonal Allergies or the Coronavirus?

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With warmer weather comes spring allergies, so how can you tell if your symptoms are caused by pollen or the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)? We asked board-certified pediatric and adult allergist Katie Marks-Cogan, MD, cofounder and chief allergist for Ready, Set, Food!, to explain.

What Are the Symptoms of COVID-19?

If someone is exposed to the coronavirus and contracts it, Dr. Marks-Cogan said “the most common symptoms include fever, dry cough, and difficulty breathing. Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist with the Allergy and Asthma Network, specified that the fever is typically over 100.5°F, and a person may also experience loss of appetite.

Other symptoms include fatigue, body aches, and chest pain or pressure, and some have gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and diarrhea. Loss of sense of smell has also been associated with COVID-19. These symptoms usually occur two to 14 days after exposure to the virus, and in mild cases, last for 10 to 14 days.

In more severe cases, the virus can move into the lungs, causing pneumonia. This means the lungs fill with pockets of pus or fluid, with symptoms like severe shortness of breath and painful coughs that can last two to three weeks, or six to eight weeks or longer for older adults or those with chronic diseases or other health problems.

What Are the Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies?

A runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and itchy or watery eyes are very common symptoms in people with seasonal allergies, explained Dr. Marks-Cogan, who also added that “they are rare symptoms in people with COVID-19 (although in young children with COVID-19, cold-like symptoms like runny nose occur more often).” She also warned that allergic asthma can often flare during this time of year due to higher pollen counts, which can cause wheezing, cough, and shortness of breath.

People can experience seasonal allergy symptoms for weeks or months, depending on what allergens trigger their symptoms. Dr. Marks-Cogan added that seasonal allergy symptoms can worsen on days with higher pollen counts, such as on dry, windy days, or right after thunderstorms.

Related: Coronavirus and the Flu Have a Lot of Symptoms in Common – Here’s What You Need to Know

What Symptoms Do Seasonal Allergies and COVID-19 Share?

Fatigue can be seen in both seasonal allergies and COVID-19, as well as headaches, wheezing, dry cough, and loss of smell. Dr. Marks-Cogan said that a fever, diarrhea, and abdominal pain are not symptoms of allergies.

How Do I Tell If I’m Experiencing Seasonal Allergies and Don’t Need to Get Tested For COVID-19?

If you have similar symptoms at the same time every year and your symptoms are mostly sneezing, runny nose, and itchy or watery eyes, then you are much more likely suffering from allergies, explained Dr. Marks-Cogan. If these symptoms improve with an oral antihistamine (like Zyrtec, Allegra, or Claritin) or asthma medication, then they’re more likely due to seasonal allergies.

“Some people with severe nasal allergies can sometimes experience a decreased sense of smell. However, this usually occurs after long-standing nasal congestion is present or is due to nasal polyps which can be seen in people with seasonal allergies,” Dr. Marks-Cogan said. Someone who suddenly develops a loss of sense of smell that isn’t associated with chronic nasal congestion should speak to their physician.

People with asthma may develop shortness of breath or cough when they’re having an asthma flare, so Dr. Marks-Cogan recommended contacting your allergist or primary care physician to help determine if you need to increase your asthma medications, or if you need to be tested for the coronavirus. If you’re concerned about the severity of your symptoms, and are also experiencing a fever or a dry cough, Dr. Marks-Cogan recommended speaking with your physician just to be safe.

POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.

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