Along with lovely blooms and warmer days comes a less welcome sign of spring: sneezing, itchy eyes, coughing and shortness of breath.

Allergy season is in full swing in Minnesota. And with anxieties high about the coronavirus, some patients are confusing allergy symptoms with the virus.

“Patients don’t really know the difference between shortness of breath from COVID-19 vs. shortness of breath from increased allergies. So patients are very concerned,” said Dr. Gary Berman, a physician at Allergy & Asthma Specialists, which has offices in Minneapolis, Plymouth and Edina.

The Twin Cities is a pollen hot spot, according to the Weather Channel, with “very high” levels of tree pollen. (Birch, ash and maple are big contributors to allergies in the region.)

Connie Krejci, 75, has struggled with year-round allergies her entire adult life. She is a resident of St. Paul’s Highland Park, a neighborhood abundant with greenery.

“My eyes are watering, my nose is watering, I’m sneezing and I get asthma,” said Krejci, who takes three medications to mitigate her symptoms.

The thought that she could have COVID-19 has crossed her mind a few times. “Especially when my chest hurts or I’m short of breath,” she said. “But my nose is running and my eyes are running, and I’m not feeling sick, so that indicates allergies to me.”

Two weeks ago the federal Centers for Disease Control added six new symptoms — chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell — to its original list of coronavirus indicators (fever, cough, shortness of breath).

People who are having trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, bluish lips or face, or a newfound sense of confusion and difficulty in waking up, are advised to call 911 and get medical attention immediately.

If you’re like Krejci or one of 50 million other Americans who suffer from allergies each year, there are ways to alleviate the symptoms. Berman suggests taking antihistamines, showering after outdoor exposure, using eye drops and even getting allergy shots. Finding out exactly what you are allergic to can help you avoid it, Berman said.

And if your allergies are unbearable, make a virtual appointment.

“Patients don’t really know that allergy offices are still open,” Berman said. We’re open for allergy shots and we’re doing telehealth to help people through this very concerning time.” Clinics are asking people to schedule appointments instead of walk-ins, and inquiring about patients’ symptoms before admitting them.

The Minnesota Department of Health has a hotline available for health questions from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903. Interpreters are available.


Liv Martin is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

What to look for

Allergy symptoms

• Sneezing

• Stuffy nose

• Runny nose

• Watery eyes

• Itching of the nose, eyes or the roof of the mouth

• Asthma

Coronavirus indicators

• Fever

• Chills

• Repeated shaking with chills

• Muscle pain

• Sore throat

• Body aches

• New loss of taste or smell

Overlapping symptoms

• Cough

• Shortness of breath

• Headache

• Fatigue


Sources: Centers for Disease and Control; Dr. Gary Berman; Minnesota Department of Health