Allergies or COVID-19? How to Tell the Difference

Now that we are outside more, and the summer has unofficially started, many Americans are suffering from allergies. During a pandemic, it’s easy to worry that allergies are signs of a more significant problem. Here are some of the ways to tell the difference.

Even in a typical year, allergies can be profoundly unpleasant and leave sufferers feeling rough. Now, they have the added concern that they might be mistaking symptoms of allergies for COVID-19. Both allergies and COVID-19 can cause shortness of breath and a cough. However, allergies also cause runny noses and stuffy or runny noses, which COVID-19 doesn’t. Additionally, COVID-19 is usually accompanied by a fever. You can lose your sense of taste and smell and have muscle pain. The temperature is one of the biggest red flags for telling the difference between allergies and COVID-19.

You should not get a fever with allergies,” said Dr. Tina Sindher, an allergist with Stanford Health Care and clinical assistant professor at Stanford Medicine. “If my patients who have allergy symptoms are reporting fever, I’m concerned about an infection.”

COVID-19 has a lot of symptoms, which can make it harder to tell. If you are concerned, you should think back to last year’s allergies. If you are experiencing anything different or worse symptoms than before, it might be a sign you have COVID-19. But, if your symptoms are worse when you open windows or leave your house for errands or exercise, that could be a sign of allergies. If you have any concerns at all, don’t hesitate to call your doctor.

Masks that stop the spread of infection can also lower your exposure to allergens. It’s essential to wear a mask to help reduce the number of people contracting COVID-19. And, it also cuts down on the amount of pollen, dust or other allergens you inhale. Additionally, washing your hands after coming inside and changing your clothes can reduce your risk of catching the virus and your exposure to allergens. You’re killing two birds with one stone.   

The sad fact is, someone can be suffering from both allergies and COVID-19. But it’s important not to panic. It could just be seasonal allergies. You can Google the current pollen count in your area to see if that might be impacting you. COVID-19 is not usually associated with sneezing, itchy eyes or postnasal drip, all of which are common signs of allergies or a cold.

In a report from China of more than 1,000 patients, nasal congestion was seen in only one out of every 20 patients,” said Dr. Kristine Arthur, an internist at MemorialCare Medical Group.

Before jumping to conclusions, speak to a doctor. They may suggest trying an OTC allergy medication to see if that fixes your problem. Sometimes, the simplest answer is the correct one. It’s possible — even if your allergies seem worse than other years — that it’s just that you have more pollen in your area than other years. A lot of us have been spending more time outdoors than we usually do. Movie theaters, restaurants and stores are closed and we’ve been going for more walks. That might also impact your allergies.
May 29, 2020
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