Is It Allergies or COVID-19?

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With the arrival of spring, many people begin to experience hay fever and other allergy-related symptoms. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing presence and spread of COVID-19 cases, it’s easy to get confused or nervous that allergy-related symptoms may be COVID-19. With so many similarities and overlap between seasonal allergies and COVID-19 symptoms, how can people with allergies distinguish between the two conditions?

Allergies are overreactions of the immune system to substances that do not cause reactions in most people. The substances that trigger the overreaction are called allergens. Seasonal allergies like hay fever can be triggered when trees, weeds, and grasses release tiny grains of pollen into the air that you breathe into your nose and throat, causing a range of symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain that symptoms shared by allergies and COVID-19 are most often cough, fatigue, headache, sore throat, congestion, and runny nose. While shortness of breath and difficulty breathing can be caused by COVID-19, seasonal allergies do not produce these symptoms unless a person also has a condition such as asthma that can be triggered by allergens like pollen.

Although the list of symptoms common to both allergies and COVID-19 is long, distinguishing symptoms that would more likely lead to a seasonal allergy diagnosis are itchy and/or watery eyes and sneezing. Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests thinking about whether you’ve had these same symptoms at the same time other years. When feeling ill, you can check your temperature–allergies do not cause fever, but COVID-19 can. Besides fever, other symptoms more likely due to COVID-19 include whole body symptoms such as chills and body aches, unique symptoms such as new loss of taste or smell, and digestive symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

With COVID-19 cases continuing or even increasing in some areas, patients should be careful to ensure seasonal allergy symptoms are not, in fact, something more serious. The definitive option when feeling ill is to get a COVID-19 test. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) urges patients to call their physicians right away and schedule a COVID-19 test if they are experiencing fever and cough. The AAFA also provides an easy-to-read chart to help distinguish symptoms between the two conditions.

The CDC also has a Coronavirus Self-Checker that is designed to help you make decisions on when to seek testing and medical care. Importantly, if someone has any of the following signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

Although there are medical conditions (e.g., kidney disease, diabetes) that have been determined to cause increased risk of severe COVID-19, the CDC states that, at this time, there is not enough information available to decipher whether patients with seasonal allergies are at an increased risk as well.

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Sources

(September 10, 2020) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infographic: Venn diagram of the overlap of COVID-19 symptoms with seasonal allergy symptoms. Accessed April 27, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/infographic-overlap-symptoms.html

(April 2, 2021) CDC. COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions, People with Seasonal Allergies. Accessed April 27, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. COVID-19 (New Coronavirus). Accessed April 27, 2021. https://www.aafa.org/covid-19-new-coronavirus.aspx

(March 8, 2021) Johns Hopkins Medicine. Is it Allergies or COVID-19? April 27, 2021. https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/ACH-News/General-News/Is-it-Allergies-or-COVID-19