Is It Allergies or Coronavirus?
The main symptoms of seasonal allergies include sneezing, a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, and nasal congestion. While some of these symptoms overlap with an infection like COVID-19, there are some important distinctions to make.
First, try to recall if you notice similar symptoms around this time of the year. That could be a tip-off that you're dealing with allergies.
- Allergies often cause intense itching—in your eyes, nose, and even ears and throat. COVID-19 doesn't cause itching.
- Nasal symptoms like a runny and congested nose are also less common in COVID-19.
- Allergy symptoms may come and go. For example, they might be worse while you're out on a social-distanced walk but go away after you've showered. Symptoms from COVID-19 tend to be constant or, eventually, gradually improve.
COVID-19 vs allergies
- Fever and cough are two of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. Allergies do not cause fevers. Usually, only people with asthma develop a cough from allergies.
- Difficulty catching your breath is a more severe symptom of COVID-19. Call 911 if you are having trouble breathing.
- Some people with COVID-19 have also had fatigue and muscle aches. (Sore throat and diarrhea are some other symptoms.) While you may feel tired from dealing with allergies, you wouldn't have muscle pain.
- Loss of taste and smell is another symptom some people with COVID-19 have noticed. Congestion from allergies may lessen your ability to smell or taste but not make them completely go away.
Do allergies increase my risk for COVID-19?
People who have seasonal allergies are sometimes more likely to develop colds. At this time, there isn't enough data to suggest that the same applies to COVID-19.
What should I tell people if I start sneezing because of my allergies?
Be honest! If you have allergies, saying so can help ease the minds of the people around you. Use a tissue when you sneeze. Or sneeze into your elbow. Remember to wash your hands frequently. If you are not sure whether you have allergies or COVID-19, check your symptoms with Buoy. (If it's a medical emergency, including having trouble breathing, call 911.) Buoy will offer suggestions for what to do next, including being told to use telehealth, head to the ER, or call 911.
Should I avoid any allergy medications because of COVID-19?
At this time, there is no data to suggest that you need to avoid any of your allergy medications. Still, information is evolving daily. To prevent transmission of COVID-19, the CDC recommends not touching your face, especially with unwashed hands. So try not to rub your nose or your eyes with your fingers, as tempting as it may be when your allergies act up.
Will staying inside more because of self-isolation help my allergies?
Staying indoors is one of the best preventive measures you can take. Seasonal allergy sufferers might find that their symptoms improve. Though this means keeping your windows closed, too.
If you go for a walk or a hike (while maintaining at least six feet of distance between you and others), be aware that pollen counts are highest from dawn to midday as well as on windy days. You might want to stay indoors during these times.
When you come home, remove your clothes and put them in the wash to get rid of any pollen (and germs). Taking a shower can also help—both with washing off pollen and washing off any germs you might have picked up along the way. So you'll be helping to keep yourself from getting allergies and COVID-19.
The scientific understanding of COVID-19 as well as guidelines for its prevention and treatment are constantly changing. There may be new information since this article was published. It’s important to check with sources like the CDC for the most up-to-date information.
Dr. Khokhar is a board-certified Allergist and Immunologist. She received her undergraduate degree in Biology from Stony Brook University in 2008 and graduated from the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University in 2012. She completed a residency in Internal Medicine at Northwell Health in 2015, followed by a fellowship in Allergy and Immunology at the University of California, Irvine in 2017. She then spent two years as an attending physician in Allergy and Immunology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, MA before moving back to her home state of New York. She recognizes the overwhelming obstacles in medical literacy and education that patients face while navigating healthcare, now the focus of her career. She joined Buoy as a medical writer in 2020.