Seasonal Allergies or COVID-19? Understanding the Difference
Symptoms can be similar; read our tips
Spring is here! Perhaps you enjoy seeing what’s in bloom on your neighborhood walk, or meeting friends at a park. Or maybe you’ve started some spring cleaning.
For many of us, this bright time of year brings an unwelcome visitor: seasonal allergies. As many as 60 million people in the U.S. suffer from symptoms of allergic rhinitis (an allergic sensitivity to something in the environment).
Allergies can be an annoyance. They can be especially frustrating during the pandemic. That’s because the symptoms can feel a lot like COVID-19, particularly the milder forms of the illness.
So how do you know whether it’s a case of seasonal allergies or COVID-19? Read on for our tips.
How are symptoms from allergies different from COVID-19?
There’s a lot of overlap in symptoms. Both seasonal allergies and COVID-19 share symptoms like coughing, congestion and sore throats, among other symptoms.
Seasonal allergies are immune system responses triggered by exposure to allergens, such as seasonal tree or grass pollens. And pollen season is getting worse every year because of climate change. Allergies are not caused by exposure to a virus like COVID-19. So, although allergic rhinitis (allergy symptoms) can happen any time of the year, allergens are most often in the air during the spring season.
There are some distinctions, though, between symptoms from allergies and from COVID-19.
- Symptoms like chills and fevers are rarely associated with allergies and are more commonly found in viruses like COVID-19 or the flu.
- Also rare with allergies are symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, and loss of taste and/or smell that are more common with a COVID-19 infection.
- Symptoms more commonly associated with allergies include itching in the nose or eyes.
- Sneezing is also more common with allergies than it is with COVID-19.
For a more detailed breakdown, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America put together a chart comparing symptoms of COVID-19, cold, flu, seasonal allergies, and asthma.
How do I know what I have?
Because there is so much overlap in symptoms, it’s best to be cautious. That means taking a COVID-19 test if you’re not feeling well. Remember, you can order two free COVID-19 test kits per month through Say Yes! COVID Test. If you test positive for COVID-19, isolate, and stay away from others, including people you live with. If you have symptoms but do not test positive for COVID-19, stay home if you can to prevent the spread of germs to others.
There are a few other signs that can help you figure out what you’re facing.
- In an article in Prevention Magazine, William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, advises people to think about their history and timeline. Often, people with allergies have a history of seasonal allergies. They’ll likely feel some of the same symptoms each season. So, if your eyes often water on your spring walks, then it’s probably because of allergies.
- Sara Narayan, MD, Allergy and Immunology Specialist at Emerson Hospital in Georgia, says we should pay attention to timelines and medications. Generally, allergy symptoms tend to be more long-lasting than symptoms caused by a virus. Allergy symptoms will also respond better to allergy medications.
Both doctors agree that testing is the best way to confirm any uncertainty. If you test positive for COVID-19, the good news is there are steps you can take to help keep yourself and others safe. If you test negative, but still feel sick, contact your doctor. They can help diagnose your illness and may suggest potential allergy treatments.
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