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Do I have allergies or the coronavirus? How do I tell the difference?

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) -- Flowers are blooming and the weather is getting warmer.

It's finally spring.

But for many, that also means it's allergy season.

And with COVID-19 on top of mind right now, how do you tell the difference between seasonal allergies and something more serious?

It's a question Dr. David Congdon is getting about a dozen times a day lately. He's an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat and allergy doctor) with Cedar Valley Medical Specialists, P.C. at the Cedar Valley Center for ENT, Sinus and Allergy in Waterloo.

He said many of his patients are allergic to pollen from trees. We're also staying inside more often than normal to quarantine, so other people are noticing dustmite allergies.

If you have allergies, you'll likely get itchy eyes, a runny nose and sneezing.

However, with coronavirus, Congdon said you'll probably feel a lot worse.

"Fever, chills, body aches, just feeling really really bad," he said. "You say 'Something's wrong, I'm really, really sick.' That's typically not what you get with allergies."

While symptoms of both COVID-19 and allergies can include loss of smell or runny nose, the difference is, medicine will help allergies.

"If someone has allergies, then when they take Benadryl or allergy meds, they'll have improvement," Congdon said. "Where they won't if they have the flu or coronavirus and so, that's the big one."

To treat indoor and outdoor allergies, many patients start with medical management.

"There are various anti-histamines you can take over-the-counter: nasal sprays, steroid nasal sprays, we always start that first," he said. "When those aren't getting an improvement, sometimes we'll do allergy testing and we can do immunotherapy, we can do allergy shots or drops."

If you're having trouble telling the difference between COVID-19 and allergies, you should call your primary care provider. Congdon said that's especially important right now, as staff and equipment are limited at hospitals.

"I think a lot of people who have those [allergy] symptoms probably don't have the chronic virus," he added. We don't want people going into the urgent care, overwhelming the system, we don't want people going to the ER for allergies, and maybe coming in contact with somebody who's been exposed."

Instead, Congdon suggests telemedicine, which many doctors, including him, are offering to their existing and new patients.

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Olivia Schmitt

Morning Anchor

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