ALLERGIES or COVID-19? Allergist explains what you need to know

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Sneezing or coughing? It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re coming down with COVID-19.

The spring allergy season causes symptoms for many of us. While we are in a global pandemic, all the trees and plants are coming to life around us. That leads to more pollen. You can even see it on some surfaces, like your car.

So how do you tell if the symptoms you’re experiencing could be allergies? Mercy Doctor Erich Mertensmeyer says he's received quite a few questions about that. First of all, if you suffer the same symptoms around this time of year every year, you likely have allergies. He also says the allergies usually come with nasal congestion, which he says at this point, only about 5% of COVID-19 patients have experienced. Red eyes have shown up as a COVID-19 symptom too, but Dr. Mertensmeyer says that appears rare. If your eyes are red and itchy, it's likely allergies, especially if you have other classic allergy symptoms like a runny, itchy nose and sneezing.

"The other confusing part can be those patients with allergy induced asthma, which can cause shortness of breath, wheezing and cough," said Dr. Mertensmeyer. "But again, if they’re having the classic allergy symptoms, that’s going to be a big distinguishing factor from allergy versus COVID-19."

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever and dry cough, and Dr. Mertensmeyer says the fever is also a distinguishing factor. He recommends treating allergy symptoms with an over the counter antihistamine. If that doesn’t work, you can also try a nasal steroid spray like Nasacort or Flonase, but he says they take a couple weeks to be fully effective. If you need to call the doctor, they’ll likely recommend a virtual visit right now.