Do I Have Allergies or COVID-19?

May 01, 2020
Do I Have Allergies or COVID-19?
Note: As a new and emerging virus, Novel Coronavirus 2019 COVID-19 is not yet fully understood. Information about the disease is changing every day. The information presented below may change as we learn more.

Note: As a new and emerging virus, Novel Coronavirus 2019 COVID-19 is not yet fully understood. Information about the disease is changing every day. The information presented below may change as we learn more. Refer to the CDC website for the latest information.

Spring pollen is suffusing the air across the Southeast at the same time that cases of the COVID-19 pandemic are peaking. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you may wonder whether your symptoms are caused by everyday allergens or the Novel Coronavirus. Distinguishing between the two may mean the difference between taking an antihistamine or quarantining yourself under a doctor’s care.

Fortunately, although there is some overlap between the symptoms of allergies and COVID-19, many symptoms of each are distinct. Below, we’ll go over the differences. However, you’re always welcome to call your United Physician Group doctor if you’re unsure. We understand how worrying it can be to wonder if you have COVID-19, and we’ll be glad to put your mind at ease.

Having Trouble Breathing? Seek Help Immediately

First a word of warning: If you’re suddenly and severely short of breath, or also experiencing chest pain, call 911 immediately.

If your shortness of breath is less severe but frequent, occurs even when you are sitting or lying down, or is accompanied by wheezing or a feeling of tightness in the throat, call your doctor promptly for further evaluation.

In cases such as these, it doesn’t matter whether your difficulty breathing is caused by allergy-induced asthma, COVID-19, or something else. Whatever the cause, it’s a serious medical concern, and you need a doctor’s attention.

Symptoms of Allergies

Allergic rhinitis, sometimes called hay fever, is caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, mold, and pet danders. (You can also be allergic to foods, medicines, insect stings, and material such as latex, but these allergies are less likely to be confused with COVID-19.)

Common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy eyes, nose, throat, or ears
  • Redness or watering of the eyes

You may also experience a sore throat or cough, both caused by postnasal drip, but these symptoms are less useful in distinguishing between allergies and COVID-19.

Symptoms of COVID-19

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that infects cells in the upper respiratory system. In some people, it can lead to pneumonia and other serious health threats. As has been reported widely, many people seem to be asymptomatic: they do not experience any symptoms while infected, or their symptoms are so mild that they don’t realize they are sick.

For people who do experience symptoms of COVID-19, the most common are:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry cough

(A “dry cough” is one that does not produce any mucus or phlegm.)

Less common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Body aches
  • Loss of taste or smell

According to the WHO, some people with COVID-19 also experience a runny/stuffy nose or a sore throat, but these symptoms are hard to distinguish from allergies. 

This list is not all-inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

How to Tell the Difference

Comparing the most common symptoms of allergies and COVID-19, if you don’t have a fever and your symptoms include itchiness in your nose, eyes, throat, or ears, it’s unlikely you have COVID-19. If you do have a fever accompanied by dry cough and fatigue, you may have COVID-19 and should call your doctor.

But, as always, if you’re unsure, please contact your doctor and ask. We’re here for you, and your United Physician Group doctor wants to know what’s going on. If you’re concerned about your health, we want to help.

How to Treat Allergies

If your allergies are new or have become worse, or if you have never asked a doctor about your allergies, you may not be aware of the wide range of treatment alternatives available to you today. Your United Physician Group family medicine doctor can discuss your options with you.

Antihistamines and corticosteroids may control your symptoms. Many are available both over the counter and, through your doctor, at prescription strengths.

Immunotherapy, such as allergy shots, may bring more lasting relief. Some immunotherapy treatments can even be given in your primary care doctor’s office. Your family medicine doctor can discuss these options with you.

You can also take measures to limit your exposure to the allergens that trigger your symptoms. Monitor your area’s daily pollen and mold counts, posted on many websites, and avoid outdoor activities on days with high counts. Keep your home and car windows closed during high-allergen days. Shower and change your clothes after returning inside from extended outdoor activities. Lastly, avoid exposure to any animals that trigger symptoms for you.

What to Do If You Suspect You Have COVID-19

Many people who become infected with COVID-19 are able to stay at home while the virus runs its course. Some develop more serious symptoms or complications that require hospitalization. Anyone with COVID-19 risks transmitting it to other people they come in contact with.

If you suspect you have COVID-19, call your doctor, report your symptoms, and ask for guidance. (If you have severe shortness of breath, call 911.)

Refer to the advice in our previous post, “What Your Doctor Wants You to Know about Coronavirus (COVID-19).”

And if you have any further questions or concerns, contact your United Physician Group doctor. We’re here and ready to help.