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Seasonal Allergies Or COVID-19?

Laura Pellicer


Pollen: The scourge of spring. North Carolinians are all too familiar with the green and yellow stuff. Last year, olive green clouds of dense pollen hovered over Durham, N.C. making national headlines and making life miserable for seasonal allergy sufferers.

This year, allergy season is further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. So, how can you tell the difference between bad seasonal allergy symptoms, and the symptoms of COVID-19?

Additional Coverage: Listen to our new podcast called 'Tested' about how North Carolina is facing the global COVID-19 crisis.


Dr. Nikhila Schroeder, a board-certified allergist and immunologist shared her advice. The CDC's updated list of COVID-19 symptoms is a good resource for additional information.

On the rise of pollen across the country:

Unfortunately, allergies are getting worse and worse each year. We are getting warmer seasons and longer seasons. The increase of carbon dioxide in the air means we're getting more pollen and actually more potent pollen. 

Break down some of the symptoms that folks should expect from seasonal allergies? 

Seasonal allergies typically present with itching in the eyes, nose, ears, maybe throat, a runny nose or watery eyes and nasal congestion or kind of feeling all stuffed up and sneezing. 

You can have other symptoms. Some people get very tired, or develop a cough. 

What about the symptoms of COVID-19. What are the big differences? 

Main symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath. We are seeing a lot more presentation with GI symptoms. So diarrhea, vomiting, and even a loss of appetite early on. Think about the whole picture of that person's symptoms. Is there fever? That's one of the big distinguishing features. Is there itch? Fever would lend more likely to an infection, potentially COVID-19. Itching would be more likely to suggest allergies. That's how we can decipher what a cough might be telling us.


 A fog of pollen over Chapel Hill captured in April, 2019.
Credit Jeremy Gilchrist / Facebook
A fog of pollen over Chapel Hill captured in April, 2019.

What is some of your top advice for reducing allergy symptoms during this stressful period?

Antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays are available over the counter. For those people who have side effects from medicines or don't want to use medicines as much, there are allergy shots, and sublingual immunotherapy in the form of tablets or drops.

Other tips for managing your allergy symptoms: 

  • Take off your shoes when you get home
  • Change your air filter 
  • Keep your windows closed
  • Use a saline solution to wash your nose and even your eyes
  • When in doubt, call an allergist or primary care doctor. Many doctors have pivoted to telemedicine visits and can triage patients online or over the phone.


Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
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