Is it allergies, the flu or the coronavirus? How to tell the difference

Inside the Houston Health Department lab where coronavirus testing is done
Inside the Houston Health Department lab where coronavirus testing is done

(CNN) -- The coronavirus has infected more than 100,000 people worldwide. With all of the news of event cancellations, empty flights and health precautions (wash your hands!), it’s natural that people may get a little anxious every time they feel a tickle in their throat or the beginnings of a bad cough.

While the coronavirus is certainly something to take seriously, the chances of any individual person getting it are still low. But if you’re wondering whether that stuffy nose could end up being a worst case scenario, CNN talked to Dr. Greg Poland, a professor of medicine and Infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic and director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, about the differences between typical allergy, cold and flu symptoms, and ones associated with the coronavirus.

The coronavirus has infected more than 100,000 people worldwide. With all of the news of event cancellations, empty flights and health precautions (wash your hands!), it's natural that people may get a little anxious every time they feel a tickle in their throat or the beginnings of a bad cough. (Leah Abucayan/CNN)

Itchy eyes? Runny nose? You probably have allergies — or a garden variety cold.

"The issue with seasonal allergies is that they affect the nose and eye," Poland says. "They tend to be nasal, and most symptoms are localized to the head, unless you also experience a rash."

Coronavirus and flu symptoms tend to be more systemic.

That is, they affect the whole body.

"The flu and the novel coronavirus, these affect other systems and the lower respiratory tract, Poland says. "You probably won't have a runny nose, but what you might have is a sore throat, a cough, a fever or shortness of breath. So it's a subtly different clinical diagnosis.