SEMBACH KASERNE, Germany – Have you developed a cough? Runny nose? Do you have shortness of breath? Feel like you’re running a fever? With everything going on in the world today, how do you know whether to take allergy medication or visit a COVID-19 screening center?During a normal spring season, both the common cold and seasonal allergies are widespread and the common flu is still present, but this year, COVID-19 has given many common cold, flu and allergy symptoms more cause for alarm.“Unfortunately, the symptoms associated with allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever or nasal allergies, can be somewhat similar to symptoms caused by COVID-19,” according to Army Col. (Dr.) Richard Bickel, an allergy specialist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. “Typical allergy, or hay fever, symptoms can include runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing and itchy eyes/nose. Less common symptoms can include cough, headaches, feeling tired (sometimes this can be from medication side effects and affected sleep), and even loss of sense of smell.”An important distinction, according to Bickel, is that allergy sufferers typically experience symptoms similar to previous seasons, although the severity level can vary.“Allergy symptoms are from the immune system’s response to allergens in the air such as pollen, mold spores, animal dander, etc., and are not contagious,” Bickel said. “Fortunately for most patients with allergic rhinitis, particularly seasonal allergic rhinitis, the presence of these symptoms are often anticipated during their usual seasonal flares. So, as the pollen levels begin to rise, so do their symptoms.”Bickel says that while COVID-19 symptoms can also be similar to the flu or a cold, there are some differences to be aware of.“Similar symptoms, as one might see with common colds, can sometimes be seen with COVID-19 cases,” Bickel said. “They include runny nose and congestion (although potentially not as common as might be seen in common colds or allergies), loss of smell, sore throat and cough.”Bickel says that with COVID-19, the more concerning symptoms that need to be monitored, if worsening, are fever, cough, shortness of breath, and muscle aches.“These symptoms, however, can be difficult to distinguish from those caused by the common seasonal flu,” Bickel said. “Remain vigilant for symptoms that are atypical for cold or allergy symptoms, and be especially vigilant for concerning signs such as fever, increased cough and shortness of breath. These may be signs that you need to seek additional medical care.”Since there is no known treatment for COVID-19, Bickel says that exposure prevention is the best protection.“While we have a vaccine and antiviral medications for seasonal influenza, we currently do not have a vaccine or effective medications to treat COVID-19,” Bickel said. “There is no known natural immunity within the population to this specific coronavirus, therefore, exposure prevention through social/physical distancing and hand washing are more important than ever.”Bickel cautions that if you are unsure of exactly what illness you have, please contact your health care provider before visiting a medical treatment facility.TRICARE beneficiaries should call the Nurse Advice Line at one of the following toll-free numbers based on your location:· Bahrain: 800-06432· Belgium: 0800-81933· Germany: 0800-071-3516· Greece: 00-800-4414-1013· Italy: 800-979721· Spain: 900-82-2740· Turkey: 00-800-44-882-5287· UK: 0800-028-3263*** To access the Nurse Advice Line (NAL) from a cell phone in Europe you must first call your clinic appointment line and choose the option for the Nurse Advice Line.***Non-TRICARE beneficiaries should contact their primary care provider or Insurance Provider for advice.As always, if you are experiencing respiratory distress, or believe you have a life threatening condition, please call emergency services or report to the nearest emergency room.