As you can see, there’s a lot of overlap among the symptoms of these three conditions. This can add to the confusion about when to seek medical care, and for what, especially when it comes to the flu and coronavirus, which have nearly identical symptoms at the outset.
Although we’re still in the information-gathering phase for novel coronavirus, it appears that co-infection (in other words, having both the flu and novel coronavirus) is less common; thus, in clinical practice, clinicians may start with testing for flu first to evaluate patients. It’s probable that allergies and both the flu and novel coronavirus can occur simultaneously.
If you do end up in your healthcare provider’s office, your clinical history will be paramount. Expect your healthcare provider to take a detailed history to decide which testing is appropriate. Be prepared to share:
- Symptoms and frequency
- Other changes in health or new symptoms that you’ve noticed
- Whether you’ve traveled out of the country recently, or if you’ve had contact with anyone with a confirmed case of coronavirus.
Remember that if you suspect you have the novel coronavirus, you should call your provider to let them know before going to their office or call 911 in case of an emergency.
Is it allergies?
Do the symptoms you’re experiencing typically occur around the same time of year? In other words, is there a seasonal pattern to your symptoms? If yes, then it’s more likely that you’re experiencing an allergy. In addition to cough, other respiratory allergy symptoms include a runny nose, stuffy nose, and watery, itchy eyes. Additionally, allergies alone never come with a fever, so that’s a key indicator to watch out for.
If you want to know exactly what your allergic triggers are, a simple blood test is available that, along with your symptom history, can help your healthcare provider determine what you are sensitized to and what you may need to avoid. Talk to your provider for more information on specific IgE allergy blood testing.
Common environmental allergens include pollens, dust mites, animal dander, and mold. Talk to your healthcare provider about managing your symptoms with exposure reduction strategies that can help minimize or reduce exposure to your triggers. You can also discuss taking over-the-counter medications such as long-acting antihistamines and nasal steroids.
How to Reduce Exposure to Environmental Allergens
Note that if your allergy symptoms aren’t well controlled, then you may be more susceptible to viruses. When you have allergies, your mucus membranes become inflamed, making it easier for viruses and bacteria to get into your system through your nose. So it’s important to identify your triggers and adopt a management plan for symptoms, such as these tips for pollen allergies:
- Close your windows. (Don’t let the pollen into your home.)
- Remove clothing after being outdoors. (Allergens are sticky.)
- Vacuum carpets and rugs regularly.
- Wear sunglasses when outside to protect your eyes from pollen.
How to Reduce the Spread of Germs
Unfortunately, based on the pattern of community spread, it appears that the novel coronavirus is easily transmitted through respiratory droplets.1 With that in mind, here are some good practices to help reduce the spread of germs based on World Health Organization guidelines:
- Wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. Pick a song to recite, such as “Happy Birthday” or the “ABC” song.
- Use hand sanitizer if soap is not available (60% alcohol or more).
- Sneeze or cough into a tissue and throw the tissue away immediately after use.
- Clean commonly used surfaces regularly in your home and office.
- Clean your phones and computers (these are often forgotten surfaces).
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, and mouth (I understand this is really hard to do, but it’s really important!).
- Avoid shaking hands and giving hugs.
- Maintain a good social distance (the CDC recommends a distance of 6 feet1).
- Avoid crowds and large gatherings.
- Stay home if you are sick (“toughing it out” = putting other people in danger!).
- Avoid close contact with sick people.