Difference between coronavirus and seasonal allergies: Your questions answered by an expert

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Spring is in the air and that means it’s also time for trees to bloom and pollen to roam throughout the air. But this spring, there’s another respiratory irritant to worry about: the novel coronavirus.

Over 30 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies, which may cause a dry cough, shortness of breath and abdominal chest pain, which is similar to symptoms reported by COVID-19 patients.


While allergy season has already begun for many in southern parts of the U.S., April will become the peak for many of the states hit hardest by COVID-19 in the northern region, including the New York tri-state area, according to Accuweather.

With the brunt of coronavirus cases expected to hit two weeks from now, many may be struggling to tell the difference between seasonal allergies and possible COVID-19 symptoms.

Fox News spoke with Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network and clinical professor at NYU Langone, about how to tell the difference between the two.

Fox News: Some of the key symptoms of coronavirus – dry cough, shortness of breath – are symptoms experienced by millions of Americans with allergies, how can people tell if it’s allergies or coronavirus?

Dr. Purvi Parikh: Generally, coronavirus will also have a fever with it over 100.4. Also, up to 50 percent of people can have GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Coronavirus patients will have more fatigue.

Allergies will not cause high temperatures and also will have more “itchy” symptoms associated. Also [patients] can have a runny nose and watery eyes, which is more typical of allergies.


Fox News: Many doctors have warned that underlying health conditions can lead some to be more susceptible to the virus. Are seasonal allergies considered an underlying condition?

Parikh: Seasonal allergies, which trigger asthma in our asthmatics, is a risk factor. Moreover, people who suffer from allergies and asthma are more likely to have upper respiratory infections in general.

Fox News: Is there a psychological element to allergies? Will COVID-19 make people with allergies more likely to experience serious symptoms because of the anxiety and fear of potentially contracting the disease?

Parikh: There is a psychological element to any chronic condition because it is scary having an asthma attack or life-threatening allergic reaction. Often anxiety can make asthma attacks worse, so it is possible that uncontrolled anxiety from COVID-19 may cause increased distress. Often anxiety symptoms and asthma symptoms are identical.

Fox News: Is there concern that people will show up to the emergency room as allergy season continues to ramp up? Is there any guidance in place from [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] or local officials about this?

Parikh: Yes, this time of year we see a peak in hospitalizations due to asthma attacks and allergy symptoms. Since asthma attacks are life-threatening and coronavirus is also serious in this population, we are doing our best to keep these patients out of the ER, where they may be exposed.

While there are no official CDC guidelines, I am encouraging my asthmatics and allergy patients to not stop their controller medications and stay home as much as possible to avoid any flares.

If need be and they do flare, I am still managing them in my office or by tele-med visits rather than sending them to ER as that can be a death sentence for an asthmatic due to increased risk of contracting the virus as all hospitals are a hot spot.

Further, it helps take the burden off my emergency medicine physicians.

Fox News: Are there any allergy medications that should be avoided due to COVID-19 or anything that could make it worse?

Parikh: We are minimizing oral or injectable steroid use if possible. However, nasal steroids and inhaled steroids should be absolutely continued and are likely protective against the virus so please do not stop them.


Fox News: Is there anything else you want people to know in regard to their seasonal allergies and coronavirus?

Parikh: Again, do not panic if you are prone to allergies and asthma this time of year; and if you do not have a fever or gastrointestinal issues, it’s likely it is not coronavirus.

But 10 people die a day in this country normally of asthma, most of which is allergic, so if you do have any breathing symptoms of cough, wheeze or shortness of breath, even without a fever, please contact your doctor.

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