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How to Tell If That Sneeze Is Coronavirus or Allergies

It's allergy season, and as the nation continues to grapple with the spread of coronavirus cases, many may find themselves wondering if their sneezes and coughs are a sign of the virus or just seasonal allergies.

Although there are some similarities between the symptoms associated with COVID-19 and allergies, which can both make it difficult to breathe, there are several key distinctions to keep in mind.

Allergies aren't typically associated with flu-like symptoms 

Although people suffering from both COVID-19 and allergies may experience dry coughs, difficulty breathing, and loss of smell, there’s a handful of tell-tale symptoms that don’t overlap.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently expanded their list of possible coronavirus symptoms, people infected with COVID-19 could expect to experience fever, chills, and muscle aches — which may be commonly associated with the flu, but not with allergies.

In contract, those suffering from allergies could also likely experience itchy and watering eyes, nasal congestion, and throat clearing, which are not typical COVID-19 symptoms.

“It’s usually your nose and eyes where you develop symptoms of seasonal allergies,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The New York Times.

"The real challenging symptoms to differentiate are cough and shortness of breath, especially in patients with asthma," Dr. Andrew Murphy, an allergist at Suburban Allergy Consultants, told U.S. News, noting that an individual's additional symptoms should be looked at to help determine what is likely going on.

What time of year your symptoms start occurring

Another important factor to keep in mind is that allergies, which affect millions of people every year, tend to be seasonal.

The start of allergy season typically begins in February, as the amount of pollen in the air starts to grow, and can last through the start of the summer months, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, which reports that over 50 million Americans suffer from allergies every year.

This year’s season has also been predicted to be particularly intense due to a combination of above average rainfall and average temperatures, which are ideal for pollen production, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.

Are your symptoms easily treatable?

Something else to think about before jumping to conclusions is that allergy symptoms tend to increase hand-in-hand with an individual's exposure to pollen — and usually lessen or resolve themselves with allergy medication.

“Allergy symptoms tend to vary with the environment: worsening with exposure to dust, pollen, or animal dander, whereas cold symptoms tend to persist regardless of time of day, weather, locality, or other environmental factors,” Dr. David M. Cutler, family medicine physician at California’s Providence Saint John’s Health Center told Healthline.

Cutler went on to note that while coronavirus symptoms can creep up out of nowhere, allergies “are usually chronic, presenting with symptoms off and on for weeks, months, or even years.”

As coronavirus symptoms can worsen with time, it's also important to monitor your health in order to be on the lookout for troubling health developments.

Detailing her own struggle with the virus, ABC News reporter Kaylee Hartung recently shared that while she initially thought her runny nose was just a symptom of allergies, she sought medical help after she began experiencing extreme fatigue, headaches and "body aches in places that I wasn't used to having them."

The CDC encourages anybody suffering from severe or concerning symptoms to get in touch with their medical provider. For those whose health does require immediate action, the agency instructs people to make sure to inform the 911 operator that you may have COVID-19, and if possible, to put on a cloth face covering before help arrives.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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