Do I have COVID-19, allergies or something else?

If you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and other symptoms, such as a cough and difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider for medical advice.

New information continues to be announced about COVID-19 on a daily basis. Once we think we understand how it affects various groups within our community, it seems we learn about a new set of complications. We have figured out that masks matter, distance apart matters and that washing your hands is a new constant in our daily lives.

Nowadays if you have a cough and sore throat, it leaves you wondering: Do I have COVID-19, regular allergies or a sinus problem due to the Saharan dust in San Antonio. Part of the challenge of course is that a number of COVID-19 symptoms are similar to many other respiratory illnesses. We’ll review some of the basics for each type of illness.

The symptoms of COVID-19 may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • New loss of taste or smell

Your exposure to others who have COVID-19 is an important factor in deciding if you might be at risk. You might have been exposed to COVID-19 if you:

  • Were in close contact with someone known to have COVID-19
  • Live in an area with a high-rate of transmission
  • Recently traveled to a high-risk area
  • Have attended an event or gathering with a large number of people

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have indicated that the more people you come in contact with and the longer you visit with them the greater risk you have of getting the coronavirus.

Some groups may be more vulnerable and at a higher risk for complications associated with getting COVID-19. This includes older adults and those with pre-existing chronic health conditions – heart disease, diabetes, those who are immunocompromised and others. If you fall into one of these categories and you develop any of the following symptoms, seek medical assistance immediately:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

Colds, allergies, the flu, coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses can all produce similar symptoms. It’s important to be familiar with all of them and to learn - the best you can - how to distinguish each of them from symptoms of Covid-19. In some instances, you may need to get medical attention to know for sure.

Symptoms for colds vary, but often include:

  • Nasal symptoms like a runny nose and congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Fever is also less common among cold symptoms

Symptoms of allergies may present as follows:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division, the plume of Saharan dust or African dust usually reaches the U.S. sometime in late spring through early autumn. We experience a wave of dry dust that blows in from the Sahara Desert. This massive plume, called the Saharan Air Layer by scientists, can raise the levels of air pollution. Health experts say the dust particles irritate some people and bring on mostly mild allergy symptoms. The dust particles can cause respiratory irritation for people with conditions like asthma or emphysema.

Common inflammatory symptoms of African dust allergies may include:

  • Feeling sick and very tired
  • Sinus irritation, congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Breathing problems

You can get the flu during the summer, but it’s not as likely as it is during the fall and winter. The flu virus thrives better in colder, drier climates.

Symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever
  • Headache & body aches
  • Severe fatigue
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Dry cough

No matter what you think your symptoms might mean, the best thing you can do when you’re not feeling well is to contact your healthcare provider. While details of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to evolve, remember when out in public:

  • Wear your mask or face covering
  • Stay 6 feet away from others
  • Wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer
  • Disinfect, regularly touched, surfaces at home and work

And lastly, if you’re thinking about taking a flight somewhere in the U.S., be informed about areas of high rate of community spread of COVID-19. You may want to reconsider your trip for another time.

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