difference between allergies and covid-19

You wake up with a headache, runny nose, and congestion. It’s summer, so it might be your annual bout of seasonal allergies. But we’re still living in a pandemic — so could your ailment be COVID-19?

Seasonal allergies and COVID-19 share some of the same symptoms, so it can be difficult to figure out which is which. Read on for more information about allergies vs. COVID-19, and how to tell them apart.

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What Is the Difference Between Allergies and COVID-19?

First, it’s important to know what each condition is.

What are seasonal allergies?

“Seasonal allergy” is a blanket term for airborne allergies in the warm weather months. It’s also called seasonal allergic rhinitis, or sometimes “hay fever.” These allergies happen when plants and mold release pollen and spores into the air.

If you’re allergic to certain types of pollen (or mold spores), your body sends chemicals into the bloodstream to defend against them. The release of these chemicals, including histamine, triggers allergy symptoms.

Seasonal allergies are not contagious. You can’t catch them from anyone. You can develop new allergies at any stage of life.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. It happens when you’re infected with a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. The symptoms vary from person to person, but often include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Unlike seasonal allergies, COVID-19 is highly contagious.

Allergies vs. COVID-19

Seasonal allergies share some symptoms with COVID-19, but they differ in important ways.

COVID-19 symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Exhaustion
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Loss of smell
  • Loss of taste
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting

Seasonal allergy symptoms

Common symptoms of pollen allergies are:

  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Itchy eyes, ears and/or nose
  • Itchy skin or a rash
  • Red eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Sore throat (from post-nasal drip)
  • Watery eyes

Questions to Ask Yourself: Seasonal Allergies vs. COVID-19

To help figure out if you’ve got COVID-19 or seasonal allergies, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Do my symptoms come back at the same time every year? If so, you’re likely allergic to a particular tree pollen or mold that occurs at the same time each year.
  • Do I have a fever? Allergies don’t cause fever. If you have a fever, you might have COVID-19, the flu, or another condition.
  • Have I ever had asthma? Asthma often goes hand-in-hand with allergies and can cause shortness of breath.
  • Does taking an antihistamine give me relief? If you feel better an hour or so after taking an antihistamine, the problem is likely allergies.
  • Do I only have symptoms when I go outside? If so, you’re likely exposed to the pollen causing your allergic reaction.
  • Have I lost my sense of smell or taste? These are specific symptoms of COVID-19, not allergies.
  • Do I have body aches, vomiting, or diarrhea? These symptoms are not related to allergies.

Treatment: Seasonal Allergies vs. COVID-19

Treatment for allergies and COVID-19 is different.

Allergy treatment

To ease symptoms of seasonal allergies, limit your exposure to pollen.

  • Stay indoors when pollen counts are high.
  • Use a portable air cleaner.
  • Keep your windows closed.
  • Use air conditioning.
  • Wash your sheets in hot water once a week.
  • Shower after spending time outdoors.
  • Take an antistamine, allergy eye drops, or allergy nasal spray when needed.

For concerns about allergies, visit UPMC Urgent Care. See your doctor if symptoms persist. You may need prescription allergy medication.

COVID-19 treatment

If you’re not fully vaccinated and have been around someone with COVID-19, you should get tested. Most cases of COVID-19 are mild and you can recover at home. You may need to quarantine. Consult a physician, including UPMC Urgent Care, or use the UPMC Anywhere Care app, if you are having the worrisome symptoms listed above.

Seek emergency medical treatment if you are experiencing:

  • Confusion
  • Pain in your chest
  • Pale or gray-colored skin
  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble staying awake

CDC, Infographic: Venn diagram of the overlap of COVID-19 symptoms with seasonal allergy symptoms, Link

CDC, What is the difference between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies? Link

Kids Health, About Seasonal Allergies, Link

American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, Seasonal Allergies, Link

Today, Is it spring allergies or coronavirus? Link

The New York Times, Is It Covid-19 or Allergies? Link

About Urgent Care

Sometimes you need care right away, with no time to wait for an appointment. That’s where UPMC Urgent Care comes in. We offer prompt treatment for illnesses and injuries 12 hours a day, seven days a week. With several western Pennsylvania locations, plus more throughout the state, you can find immediate care close to you. Our services include treatment for minor injuries and illnesses, physicals, prescription filling, and flu shots and immunizations. Wait times are usually shorter than the emergency room for minor injuries and illnesses, and we accept most major insurance.