How to tell the difference between seasonal allergies, the coronavirus and the flu

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – If you are suffering from cough or congestion, doctors say it could be a symptom of seasonal allergies, the coronavirus or the flu.

Allergies to tree pollen, influenza and COVID-19 are all now in circulation at the same time, sharing similar symptoms, Bon Secours St. Francis family physician Steven Newman says.

“Cough, sore throat, headache, [and] congestion; all those symptoms can be associated with any of those 3 problems,” he says, adding that allergies are typically easiest to diagnose.

“You should not expect a person who has allergies to run a fever or have body aches,” he said.

However, Dr. Newman warns that they increase your risk for contracting or spreading COVID-19, and he expects allergies to tree pollen will be an issue for several more weeks.

“Sneezing, coughing or increased need to scratch or rub your eyes increases your risk for transmission,” he said.

Both the coronavirus and flu typically begin with fever, he says, but the onset is usually different.

“With the flu, you wake up suddenly with fever chills [and] feel like a truck has hit you,” he said. “With the coronavirus, onset symptoms tend to be more subtle and gradual on the onset, so you feel kind of bad for 1 or 2 days, gradually feel worse, gradually feel worse and after 5-7 days you feel horrible,” he said.

As he explained, symptoms are slightly different for both. “One of the most distinguishing factors with the coronavirus is the shortness of breath and chest pain associated with it. Whereas with the flu, you may have the cough and if you have asthma you may have shortness of breath,” he said.

He said one thing people often forget is that the flu is spread year-round.

“It’s not something that just goes away when the warm weather comes,” he said. “It’s less likely to spread when the warm weather comes because people are not compacted into closed environments.”

If you have trouble deciphering whether or not you have the flu, allergies or the coronavirus, Dr. Newman encourages people to make a virtual visit with your doctor.

If you are a current patient at Bon Secours St. Francis and need to see a doctor for any reason, physicians are now asking you to first call your doctor’s office.

Based on your symptoms, you’ll be recommended for a virtual visit with your doctor via phone or video, or, if necessary, an in-person visit.

For a video virtual visit, you’ll get a text from your doctor’s office with a link. To begin the virtual visit, patients need to click the link, make sure to enable camera access on your phone, and follow prompts to join the visit.

If you are not a current patient at Bon Secours St. Francis, but are either showing symptoms of COVID-19 or were exposed to someone who tested positive, you can download the Bon Secours 24/7 app and receive a free COVID-19 virtual visit from your smart phone using the code “CARE2020.”

To submit a health topic for our series go to our website, click here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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