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Published on March 16, 2020

Is it Seasonal Allergies, Flu or the Coronavirus?

Seasonal Allergies, Flu or the Coronavirus

With novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the news, you may begin to feel anxious about an itchy nose or cough. As spring nears, how can you tell whether your small symptoms are seasonal allergies, flu or early signs of coronavirus?

“It’s important to consider the season,” said John Adams, MD, hospitalist at Wayne UNC. “Flu season can start any time in late fall, peaking in mid-to-late winter and continuing through early spring. Seasonal allergies usually begin in the spring.”

Seasonal Allergies

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, allergies often occur when your immune system overreacts to something that is typically harmless to others. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, your body may not react well to common allergens like pollen, grass and ragweed.

Common allergy symptoms can include:

  • Dry cough
  • Rashes
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Runny nose, stuffy nose or sneezing

Dr. Adams says seasonal allergies often begin with watery or puffy eyes and an itchy nose, throat and ears. If you have asthma, these symptoms can sometimes be worse.

If you’re struggling with a cold or allergies, contact your primary care provider or use UNC Urgent Care 24/7 from the comfort of your home.

Flu or COVID-19

Flu tends to die back as the temperature rises, but scientists have yet to see that coronavirus does the same. However, it is still flu season, so if you experience fevers, headaches or muscle aches, you could be suffering from the flu.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) distinguishes that patients with COVID-19 often show three main symptoms: fever, shortness of breath and dry cough. Some less common symptoms include aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting are not common with the flu.

Your travel history can also offer clues. If you traveled to an area with large clusters of coronavirus or were in contact with someone who later tested positive, you may have caught it, too.

If you have a cough or shortness of breath or you are concerned that you may have been exposed to COVID-19, call your primary care provider before getting out of the house. You might be contagious and could infect others.

If you do not have a primary care doctor, call the UNC Health Helpline at 1-888-850-2684 before visiting a doctor’s office, urgent care location, hospital or emergency room.

If you are having difficulty breathing, call 911.

“About 80 percent of patients with COVID have mild to moderate symptoms and can be managed at home, said Adams. “Stay home from work, school and away from other public places. If you must go out, maintain distance from others and avoid using any kind of ride-sharing, taxis or public transportation.”

If you think you are mildly ill with COVID-19, cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands frequently, avoid sharing household items and clean all high-touch surfaces. Self-quarantining in your home helps prevent transmission to the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, who are most at risk.

For the latest on UNC Health’s COVID-19 response, visit

What To Do If You Have COVID-19 Symptoms?

If you are concerned you have been exposed or have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), click the purple Coronavirus Help tab on the bottom of

This will bring up our coronavirus symptom checker that will lead you through some questions to determine if you need medical follow-up. You can also call your primary care provider.

Do not go to your doctor’s office or an urgent care without first determining if further medical screening is necessary.

If you are having difficulty breathing, call 911 or seek immediate treatment.