Allergy vs. COVID-19 Symptoms

Learn which symptoms best distinguish respiratory allergies from coronavirus.

Devon Scoble

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Highlights

  • Sneezing, itchy eyes, nose and throat and a chronically stuffed nose are likelier with allergies, while extreme fatigue and fever are likelier with COVID-19.
  • If you suspect you have COVID-19, the best thing to do is get tested.
  • If you have a stuffy nose, scratchy throat and itchy eyes, especially during pollen season, see an allergist or take an allergy test.

Allergies and COVID-19 operate differently in the body, even if the misery they cause can share certain characteristics.  

Learn how to identify whether your sniffles and sneezes, aches and pains or scratchy throat and cough symptoms are the result of respiratory allergies — or whether you should get tested for coronavirus.

Signs of allergies

Seasonal allergy symptoms are, well, seasonal, occurring in spring, summer and fall, when triggers like pollen are in the air. Seasonal allergies can persist, lasting for weeks or months, depending on the specific trigger.

Perennial allergies are typically less severe, lasting year-round and often usually causing nasal congestion and itchy eyes.

Dr. Ivor Emanuel, M.D. is an allergy specialist, and has published numerous papers on allergy diagnosis and treatment, acute and chronic sinus disease, asthma and more. 

He says while allergies and coronaviruses, including COVID-19, share some characteristics, itchy, watery eyes, and itchy nose and throat are the main clues that you’re probably dealing with an allergy. If you have a stuffy nose, scratchy throat and itchy eyes year-round, he suggests seeing an allergist to get assessed for a chronic allergy, such as one from dust mites or mold.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Earlier variants of COVID-19 usually started with a fever and dry cough, making them somewhat easier to identify. But the now-dominant omicron variant is much likelier to manifest in the upper respiratory tract. Common symptoms of an omicron COVID infection can include: 

  • stuffy or runny nose
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • headache
  • general malaise
  • fever

Infection with the omicron variant of COVID-19 can result in one of these symptoms, all of these symptoms or none of them. 

Dr. Rafid Fadul is a pulmonologist specializing in lung diseases. “Even common cold symptoms should raise the concern of COVID, particularly in areas of outbreak,” he says. Fully-vaccinated people are especially likely to have a milder experience, similar to the common cold.

Allergy vs. COVID-19 symptoms

Use this chart to help narrow down your symptoms:¹²³⁴⁵⁶⁷⁸⁹¹⁰

COVID-19 symptoms vs. allergy symptoms FAQs

Find the answers to your top allergy vs. COVID questions here:

What’s the difference between allergy symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms? 

COVID-19 and allergies have different causes, but the symptoms can overlap. Take a look at the chart above to learn about distinguishing symptoms, and if you’re not sure, take a COVID-19 test.

Can you have allergies and COVID-19 at the same time?

Yes, you can.

What’s the difference between a COVID-19 cough vs. a normal cough?

Just like allergy symptoms, COVID-19 symptoms are different for different people. If you have a cough and wonder if it might be a symptom of COVID, get tested. 

I don't know if I’m experiencing allergies or COVID-19 symptoms. What should I do?

If you have any COVID-19 symptoms you should get tested. If you’ve ruled out COVID-19 with a PCR test and your symptoms continue, check with your healthcare professional to rule out a chest or lung condition. And if that doesn’t get you clear answers, consider visiting an allergist or taking an allergy test.

Quiz: Could it be COVID-19?

Answer these questions to narrow down your likelihood of having coronavirus:

Can you taste and smell?

One of the unique symptoms of COVID is a loss of taste and smell, though not everyone with coronavirus experiences this symptom. Sometimes, in vaccinated people, this is the only clue they have COVID. 

Of course, as we all know, a stuffed-up nose from a cold can make it difficult to taste yummy flavors. But if you've lost your taste or smell without having a stuffed-up nose, COVID is a strong possibility. 

Do you have any gastrointestinal symptoms (like diarrhea or vomiting)?

Though the regular flu can cause these symptoms, that's quite rare. They're much more likely in COVID, with about one-third experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms. So if you have diarrhea, vomiting or an aversion to food, on top of coughing or fever, beware — it could be COVID.

Are you short of breath?

This is the most concerning sign of COVID. It doesn't show up right away. Instead, it usually shows up after five or so days of symptoms. If you're feeling short of breath, get tested and call a health provider. Early treatment could save your life.

You can also monitor your oxygen levels with a home oxygen monitor. If it drops below 95%, call your doctor. If your oxygen levels plummet below 90%, head to the emergency department.

How to prevent seasonal allergies

You can’t cure allergies, but you can avoid the triggers that cause them. If you’re not sure what those are, consider taking an allergy test as a first step. You may also wish to speak with your allergy specialist, physician or pharmacist about antihistamines, or other allergy treatments. 

How to prevent COVID-19

Coronavirus hangs around in the air, invisible to the human eye. So you want to consider the air you're breathing. If you're having people over, open one or more windows for ventilation. You may even consider buying a HEPA air filter.

Avoid staying in poorly ventilated spaces with multiple people, especially for extended periods (like 10 minutes or more). If you can't avoid that, wear a high-quality mask – ideally an N95 mask, and if not, a surgical mask.

Of course, if you and the people around you are vaccinated, you're less likely to get COVID. And, if you do get COVID, you're much less likely to get a severe bout. So the number one way to prevent COVID is to get vaccinated!

It’s also worth noting that our understanding of COVID-19 — and its variants — is constantly evolving. Symptoms differ from person to person and from variant to variant. If you’re not sure, caution is always a good thing. A PCR test is the best way to confirm or rule out COVID-19. As much as you can, stay away from others while waiting for your results, and be sure to follow public health guidance for your area if your results are positive.

Summary

Although allergies and COVID-19 share some symptoms, allergies are something you either have or you don’t, while COVID is easier to avoid. The best way to prevent a COVID-19 infection is to get vaccinated. If you have a fever, extreme fatigue or have lost your sense of taste or smell, it’s much likelier that you’re dealing with coronavirus; if your symptoms last throughout allergy season or year-round, allergies are likelier. When in doubt, take a COVID-19 test.

Updated on
April 12, 2022
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REFERENCES

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2. NIH News in Health. Cold, Flu, or Allergy? Accessed January 24, 2022.

3. UPMC HealthBeat. Why Do I Have the Chills? Accessed January 24, 2022.

4. Archives of Disease in Childhood. Systematic review of reviews of symptoms and signs of COVID-19 in children and adolescents. Accessed January 24, 2022.

5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of COVID-19. Accessed January 24, 2022.

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7. The Lancet. Early detection of COVID-19 in the UK using self-reported symptoms: a large-scale, prospective, epidemiological surveillance study. Accessed January 24, 2022.

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