How can you tell the difference between allergies and coronavirus?

If you start coughing and have a runny nose, how do you know if it’s allergies or if you could have the new coronavirus?

“We’re starting to learn more about this virus on a daily basis,” said Dr. Bobby Mahajan, director of interventional pulmonology at Inova Fairfax hospital and volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association.

Mahajan said that those with asthma and other preexisting respiratory and lung conditions should pay careful attention to the symptoms of the new coronavirus.

“This presents with fevers, usually a dry cough and muscle aches. It can progress to more shortness of breath relatively quickly,” Mahajan said.

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But how can you tell the symptoms of allergies and coronavirus apart?

He said with allergies, “you might have a cough, postnasal drip, even a runny nose and eye kind of symptoms. But typically people don’t run into fevers, significant cough or muscle aches. Shortness of breath, especially severe shortness of breath, is not associated with allergies compared to the coronavirus.”

If you know someone who has asthma or other respiratory and lung conditions, Mahajan said social distancing is an important tool in making sure that their cases aren’t severe should they get coronavirus.

“Patients with underlying emphysema, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and also underlying cancers, especially lung cancers, are at a higher risk of getting more sick with these infections,” he said.

But when it comes to preventing exposure, he said it’s important that everyone, even if they don’t have preexisting conditions, takes the same crucial steps.

“We’re all at essentially at the same risk if we don’t take appropriate hand washing and social distancing, but when they do get those infections, they tend to get more sick,” Mahajan said.

He added that hearing about the virus and its spread can be scary for some, but that “fear and anxiety can be a great motivator to take action and be vigilant.”

Those with questions on respiratory health during the pandemic can call the American Lung Association’s lung help line at 1-800-LUNG-USA.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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