How Do I Know If I Have Allergies or COVID-19?

Spring is nearly here and with it comes planning for fun day trips and outdoor activities. Unfortunately, along with the blooming plants and warmer weather, along comes other signs of spring—sneezing, watery eyes, and runny noses. Sometimes, though, these symptoms can leave people confused because they overlap with other illnesses, especially virus-related ones. At other times, people are just unclear regarding which symptoms might indicate allergies or which may point to another illness such as COVID-19.

What are Allergies?

When one suffers from allergies, they develop the condition called allergic sinusitis which is the technical way of saying your sinuses are infected and inflamed. Allergy symptoms result from the immune system overreacting to an external trigger and producing histamines in the blood as it tries to rid the body of allergens. Symptoms tend to come and go throughout the growing season as different plants mature and die back and their pollen becomes airborne. The early spring inundates us with tree pollen, the late spring and early summer bring grass pollen, fall brings ragweed pollen and warm, moist weather brings increasing numbers of spores from mold and fungi. You may not be allergic to oak tree pollen and feel no allergic response, however, you might be very allergic to ragweed pollen and when it begins floating around, you feel miserable very quickly. Children suffering from allergies tend to become restless, but adults become more fatigued.

Additional causes of allergies include pet dander, cockroach droppings, and dust mites, all of which are present year-round, but may increase in concentration with houses tightly closed against the cold.

Typical symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Watery & Itchy eyes
  • A general unwell feeling
  • Fatigue due to poor sleep
  • Runny nose & congestion
  • Itchy nose, throat, roof of mouth

COVID-19

Where allergies are the result of an internal immune system response to an external trigger, COVID results from a specific type of virus, a form of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, that infects the victim. Allergies are not a sign of an impaired immune system, but of a highly active one and there is no evidence that those with allergies are any more susceptible to COVID-19 infection than those without allergies.

Coronaviruses are part of a large family of viruses that affect the respiratory system and are responsible for diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Viral infections like COVID tend to steadily worsen, whereas allergy symptoms tend to come and go. A COVID infection can feel like a minor cold, however, in others, it becomes much more acute and risky. COVID affects people differently, lasting from just days to multiple weeks in others. COVID symptoms can overlap with those of allergies.

Common COVID Symptoms:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

This list is not an exhaustive one, and as new variants surface and vaccination status fluctuates, these symptoms can change.

How Can I Tell If I Have Allergies or COVID-19?

Only a COVID test can provide the most reliable information as to whether you have COVID or not. In the absence of testing, there exist general clues that might help you to determine whether you are suffering from COVID or allergies.

Potential clues:

  • COVID commonly produces a fever, but allergies usually do not.
  • COVID infection rarely causes sneezing and itchy eyes nose and throat, but they are hallmarks of allergies.
  • COVID causes a loss of smell and taste for many people, allergies do not.

Emergency Signs of COVID:

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

If someone is showing any of these signs, call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility. Notify the operator that you are seeking care for someone who has or may have COVID-19.

The good news about allergies is that there are over-the-counter remedies that can help drastically reduce the symptoms and suffering of those afflicted and one can experience relief once the offending allergen lessens either by the season, a good house cleaning, or the use of a good air filter. Many who are infected with COVID suffer minor symptoms for only a brief time, while others aren’t as fortunate. Though we now have access to a vaccine, it is still good to assess your vulnerability and protect yourself however possible from getting it, especially if you are immunocompromised.