Local physician breaks down the difference between allergies and COVID-19

Published 5:37 pm Monday, March 30, 2020

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It’s early spring in Georgia, which means the weather will begin to stay consistently warm, showers will be more frequent and large amounts of pollen will be in the air causing many people’s allergies to act up.

Typically, it wouldn’t be a big deal to many people if they have a slight cough during March or April, but with the COVID-19 healthcare crisis among us, individuals are hypersensitive not only to their own health but anyone nearby.

The good news is COVID-19 and allergies aren’t all that similar, and there are distinct differences between the symptoms, according to Dr. Kenneth Horlander, pulmonology physician with Emory Clark-Holder Clinic.

“Allergies can present themselves differently in different people,” he said. “For most people, it’s sinus predominate, especially with pollen.”

Horlander said usually allergies cause sinus congestion and drainage. Additionally, it makes people want to clear their throat frequently and expel fluid from their sinuses.

Allergies also cause sneezing, swelling in the face, and around the eyes, which are things not associated with COVID-19.

He said the COVID-19 symptoms typically include a fever more than 100 degrees, having chills, a cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, congestion that’s different from typical seasonal allergies, body aches, fatigue, loss of smell and diarrhea.

“Some of the big questions we ask allergy patients is if it’s the same cough you have every year with allergies,” Horlander said. “If it is, we are less worried about it.”

He said the cough could seem the same because it can be a dry cough. That’s due to some people having postnasal drip, which means people aren’t coughing up much fluid. However, if a person is bringing up yellow mucus, and it’s coming from their nose, that’s probably their season allergies, Horlander said. Allergies typically don’t flare up out of anywhere if a person has never experienced them before, he said.

“However, I will say that anybody will have a cough if there is enough pollen thrown in their face,” Horlander said. “And, it’s been pretty strong lately.”

He said his clinic has fielded called from patients concerned about the seasonal allergies who have wondered if it could be related to the virus. He said a doctor can usually put a patient’s mind at ease over the phone by describing their symptoms or by utilizing teleconferencing where the doctor can see the patient.