According to the CDC, over 60 million people experience allergies. Allergy symptoms include runny nose, coughing, sneezing, scratchy throat and more. These symptoms wouldn’t typically cause too much concern and would easily be attributable to allergies. But because of the ongoing pandemic, symptoms can be confused for COVID-19. This virus shares a few symptoms with allergies, potentially causing alarm. Knowing the similarities and key differences of allergies and COVID can help you avoid some stress and how to best address the symposium you are experiencing.

Understanding Allergies

Allergies are a reaction produced by the immune system. They occur when the body comes into contact with an allergen – substances that are usually harmless but that the body perceives as a threat. To make sure the allergen does not harm the body, the immune system activates a response system which neutralizes it. This includes releasing chemicals like histamine into the bloodstream which target and eliminate the allergen. But this overreaction creates the symptoms we commonly associate with allergies including the following:

  • Sneezing, runny nose
  • Itchy and/or watery eyes
  • Scratchy throat
  • Congestion
  • Coughing

Common allergens that people are allergic to include pollen, pet dander, mold, and dust mites. Typically, people are aware of the sources of their allergies which means that they can expect these symptoms if they are exposed to the allergen.

Identifying COVID Symptoms 

COVID is a virus that causes respiratory infection. It is contracted through droplets and virus particles released into the air by a person who is infected. Common symptoms of covid include:

  • Cough
  • Fever or chills
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Sore or scratchy throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Congestion, runny nose

These symptoms can be experienced mildly to profoundly. While some may actually not experience symptoms (asymptomatic), others can experience life threatening health issues.

Telling Difference Between Allergies & COVID

Usually, people who suffer from allergies are aware of their triggers and responses. But in this COVID era, distinguishing symptoms can be confusing. Both allergies and COVID can involve a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, and fatigue. But there are a few key differences that can help you distinguish COVID from allergies including the following:

  • Fever: experiencing a fever is usually not a symptom of allergies but is often a COVID symptom.
  • Smell & taste: A loss of taste and smell which was more of a common widespread symptom of COVID earlier in the pandemic is not a symptom of allergies.
  • Cough: while both allergies and COVID can involve a cough, the type of cough is different. Whereas in allergies a cough is usually wet and more sneeze-like, COVID involves a dry cough.
  • Shortness of breath: breathing difficulties are common symptoms of COVID. But shortness of breath usually only occurs in people with allergies if they also experience another respiratory issue like asthma.

These key differences can help you identify COVID from allergies. Another strategy is to also take over the counter allergy medications like antihistamines or decongestants. If this alleviates your symptoms, this highlights that you are experiencing allergies. It is also important to always be safe so taking an at home COVID test is another great way to identify what you are experiencing.

Preventative Measures 

There are several strategies you can practice to help reduce the risk of contracting COVID as well as experiencing allergies. A few tips include:

  • Wear a mask: this is helpful both for preventing COVID as well as allergies. Inhaling allergens as well as COVID particles is a common way people develop symptoms. Wearing a mask provides protection and helps you navigate public spaces more safely. 
  • Reducing risk of COVID: a few other strategies include staying up to date with vaccines and boosters, thoroughly washing your hands after any activity, maintaining social distancing, and regularly cleaning high touch surfaces.
  • Reducing impact of allergies: reduce your exposure to allergens, avoid the outdoors during peak pollen hours, and take over the counter medications in advance.

These strategies can help reduce your risk of getting sick and experiencing severe symptoms.

When To See a Doctor

If you experience any severe symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention. This includes shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Also, if your symptoms are allergy related and you are not responding to over the counter medications, you should see your healthcare provider. They can help you identify medications and strategies that can alleviate your symptoms.