New Jersey residents are headed into peak pollen season — and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, chances are many folks will be more anxious than ever when symptoms arrive.

But there are clear differentiating signs between suffering from allergies and coming down with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. If you're a typical victim of allergies, you may want to educate yourself on the different indicators.

A cold snap in the Garden State has kept pollen counts at a reasonable level that would only affect the most severe allergy sufferers. But Dr. Leonard Bielory, who's been tracking these counts for decades, says the predicted weather pattern for New Jersey points to a "burst" of pollen over the next few weeks — sending counts per cubic meter from the triple digits to the many thousands.

"Even individuals who only have mild symptoms will feel the effects," said Bielory, a professor at the Rutgers Center of Environmental Prediction.

This is when, as they say, April showers bring May flowers. Trees such as birch, oak and cedar, Bielory said, should be the main culprits of distributing pollen. The yellow powder that covers our vehicles is also circulating in the air and will trigger, for many, itchy eyes, runny noses, sore throats and persistent coughs.

"As tree pollens proliferate over the next two months, more and more allergy and asthma patients will worry they have COVID-19 — so it's critically important to know how to distinguish between these illnesses and the symptoms of viral and bacterial infections," Bielory said.

To help residents avoid panic as the effects of spring truly set in, Bielory released a chart (below) showing the difference in and severity of symptoms based on medical condition.

Shortness of breath and fever, two prime symptoms of COVID-19, rarely accompany seasonal allergies.

"If a patient has asthma or allergies, any breathlessness they experience should be relieved by an inhaler or other medication prescribed by their physician," Bielory said. "If not, it's imperative to seek medical attention immediately."

Other telltale signs of COVID-19, as well as other viral syndromes like the flu, include extreme fatigue and muscle aches and pains — those rarely affect individuals who are simply battling allergies.

Produced by Dr. Leonard Bielory
Produced by Dr. Leonard Bielory

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