Do I Have Allergies or the Coronavirus?

Photo: Sam Edwards/Getty Images

Feeling sick in any sort of way right now can be scary. And as allergy season settles upon us, with blooming trees and pollen filling the air, many of us are waking up with sore throats, stuffy noses, and the same question: It’s probably just allergies … right?

I reached out to Clifford Bassett, founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, to see if he could give us some guidance about determining whether what we’re feeling is really just allergies or something we should watch more carefully.

Do you have a history of seasonal allergies?

“We’re seeing an early allergy season because of warmer temperatures in the winter,” Bassett said. So if you’ve had a history of seasonal allergies and they tend to feel like what you’re feeling now, there is likely no need to worry. “I’ve found that 90 percent of my virtual phone calls are very uplifting. We’re reassuring people as far as what symptoms can be what, and we’re giving them a plan so they can be a little more astute about their management.”

Although we’ve been experiencing pollen for a few weeks, he doesn’t think we’ve reached the highest levels of it yet — “the pollen tsunami, or the pollen cloud, where you look at the cars and you can literally see the pollen.” So check local weather reports, note whether the pollen count seems high, and if you’re taking medication for allergies, be prepared with a 30- to 90-day supply.

“The other thing that’s important to know for allergy sufferers: Allergy medications work extremely well for allergy symptoms, especially if you’re more proactive and start early.” However, if you have the flu, a cold, or the novel coronavirus, allergy medications aren’t going to get the job done. Pay attention to whether your medicine is working like it has in the past or whether it’s failing in quieting your symptoms.

Do you feel itchy?

“The biggest telltale sign of an allergy is itchiness,” Bassett said. “I think that’s the No. 1 thing that can help people identify in most cases whether they are experiencing allergies.”

If you’re experiencing itchiness of the eyes, nose, and throat, particularly if you have a history of seasonal allergies, it’s likely that you’re experiencing seasonal allergens rather than the virus.

How fatigued are you?

“People sometimes complain about fatigue when they have allergies,” Bassett said. This happens particularly if they have a very congested nose and almost feel almost like they have a common cold. They’ll have trouble sleeping, wake up in the morning, and still feel tired. “But in my experience with individuals infected by the novel coronavirus,” Bassett said, “it’s a pretty profound fatigue. It’s not just a casual thing.”

Do you have a fever?

“What can be confusing is that people who have seasonal allergy symptoms, will then have a fever, body aches, sudden loss of smell and taste, coughing — and they may actually be suffering from coronavirus.”

Don’t discount your symptoms just because you suffer from seasonal allergies. A fever and the sudden loss of smell and taste are not symptoms that often present with allergies — if you’re experiencing these things and you’re worried, call your primary-care doctor.

Do I Have Allergies or the Coronavirus?