Mar. 30, 2022

Is it COVID-19 or Just Allergies?

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There it is! The tickle in your throat that leads quickly to a sneeze. You wake up the next day with a scratchy throat and a slight cough. Your nose runs a little. Not enough to take something, but just enough to be annoying. All of this leads to the vicious cycle of fretting and asking, “Do I have COVID-19?”

Answering the “Is it COVID?” question is no easier two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who battle seasonal allergies are prepared to grapple with the issue again this year. For some, it will be happening sooner compared to past years. Dr. Shyam Joshi, the medical director of allergy and immunology at Oregon Health & Science University, explained to the KGW-TV news team in Portland that tree pollen season started a month earlier this year in that part of the country. “Sometimes it's hard to tell,” said Joshi. “But generally, if we're seeing a lot more itchy watery eyes, sneezing, itchy nose, we're thinking most likely it's going to be allergies.”

Why Can’t People Tell the Difference Between COVID-19 and Allergies?

While we may be tired of talking or hearing about COVID-19, it has only been around for just over 2 years. Details are still being uncovered about how this virus works and how it impacts different people. The range of symptoms for COVID-19 is broad and differs based on the variant contracted. That makes it harder to definitively tell if someone has the virus or if their symptoms could be attributed to allergies. Since the basic symptoms of allergies and COVID-19 overlap, it’s difficult to know which is which. But there are some clear differences between the two.

The Basics of COVID-19

COVID-19 is a viral infection that can be spread in a variety of ways. You can catch the virus when you have close contact with someone who is already infected. Typically, droplets of the virus are carried through the air when someone infected coughs or sneezes. The most common symptoms reported with COVID-19 are fever, dry cough, fatigue, body aches, and a loss of smell. Additional symptoms of the Omicron Variant include all symptoms listed above plus a runny nose, headache, sneezing, and sore throat.

The onset of symptoms for COVID-19 typically happens 2 to 14 days after exposure. You can expect to recover within 14 days after the symptoms start but reports of issues after the two-week period are possible. Even if you are vaccinated, you can still get COVID-19. Symptoms are expected to be milder during breakthrough cases of the virus compared to someone who is unvaccinated.

Seasonal Allergies 101

Allergies happen when your immune system overreacts to normal things in your environment that are not contagious. Pollen, dust, mold, pet dander, and many other things can cause an allergy flair-up. Symptoms can be mild to severe. Plus, they can happen seasonally or all year. They include sneezing, runny nose, stuffy nose, itchy eyes, watery eyes, itchy nose, itchy ears, and a postnasal drip that can lead to a sore throat. It’s not uncommon for someone battling allergies to experience mild fatigue. /p>

Tips to Determine if You Have COVID-19 or Allergies

Emerson Hospital in Concord, MA provides tips on their website to help patients tell the difference between allergies and COVID-19. They go on to include additional information about discerning if symptoms could also be signs of a cold or the flu in an easy-to-read checklist accessible here. Dr. Sara Narayan, a specialist in allergy and immunology provides five tips to follow while trying to determine if symptoms are related to allergies or COVID-19.

  • Put together a timeline and track your symptoms. Oftentimes people will see a pattern related to their symptoms. That’s especially true when dealing with seasonal allergies. Also, allergies will be longer-lasting than virus symptoms.
  • Try to relieve symptoms with over-the-counter allergy medication. Allergy symptoms usually respond to these drugs.
  • Itchiness is a sign you’re dealing with allergies. Viruses do not cause itchiness.
  • But allergies will not cause a fever. If you have a fever, you may be battling COVID-19.
  • People with allergies may have asthma. Coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing are signs of asthma. While many of those could come with COVID-19, wheezing is not one of them. If you experience wheezing, you most likely are dealing with allergies.

Always Contact Your Healthcare Professional

If you have a concern about your health, it is always a good idea to check in with your doctor. The saying, “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” is at play here. If you are unsure if you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, taking an at-home test is a reasonable precaution. Wearing a mask can also ease your concerns. Plus, in this new world where face masks are an acceptable fashion accessory, people who have allergies are finding out there are benefits to masking up for them too.

“I have several patients who choose to wear masks even when there's nobody around because they do notice that their allergy symptoms are getting better,” said Joshi.

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