Is It Allergies, the Flu or Coronavirus? How to Recognize Symptoms

With COVID-19 appearing in Houston at the end of flu season and the beginning of allergy season, how do we know the difference?

By Dr. Vian Nguyen, Chief Medical Officer


Updated April 28, 2020.

RodeoHouston has been cancelled for the first time in 80 years; Austin’s SXSW has fallen victim to the virus, too. Conferences, schools and businesses across the country are deciding if or when to shutter to prevent the opportunity for community spread.

For these reasons, it is perfectly understandable that you may have concerns over symptoms you may be feeling, like a tickle in your throat or a persistent cough. However, with coronavirus testing kits in short supply across the country, it is not advised that every person be tested if they feel ill, and certainly health care providers cannot be testing individuals multiple times per person.


Cold or Allergies:

  • Itchy eyes
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sneezing

Flu or Coronavirus

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Cough
  • Worsening symptoms


  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • History of travel (see here for the CDC’s travel advisory page)
  • Exposure to coronavirus-infected person

(Source: CDC; Mayo Clinic)


If you’re experiencing a runny nose and itchy eyes, chances are you’ve just got a cold. These tend to be localized to the head, giving you some nasal backup, and maybe even a nasal headache if the pressure builds up. This could be alleviated with over the counter antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or loratadine (Claritin), and you are probably not seriously ill. Unless you have a preexisting condition like asthma, you will likely not experience shortness of breath due to allergies.

The flu and coronavirus affect entire systems of your body. While you may not experience a runny nose like you might with allergies, you’ll likely have a sore throat, a cough, shortness of breath, joint and muscle ache, and a fever.

While a cold can feel awful for a bit, the symptoms will likely subside. With a virus like the flu or coronavirus, the symptoms will worsen after a few days.

If you’re worried about your symptoms, call your physician and follow their instruction.

Underlying health conditions that could result in greater risk include diabetes, pregnancy, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, or if you are an organ transplant patient.

To prevent the possibility of community spread, it is advised that you call ahead to describe your symptoms before going to your clinic in person.

Call in to Legacy at (832) 548-5000 before visiting in person if you would like to discuss your symptoms. To read more about Legacy’s response to COVID-19, see our blog here.