Coronavirus vs. Allergy Symptoms: Experts Highlight the Differences
How to tell your seasonal allergy symptoms from signs that you've contracted COVID-19.
With the coronavirus pandemic continuing its spread through spring, you're probably monitoring your health closely. And if you're an allergy sufferer, you likely expect some uncomfortable days as the seasons change. But right now, even the slightest cough or sneeze could potentially send you into a panic. Fortunately, there are clear differences between allergies and symptoms related to COVID-19. For this coronavirus vs. allergy symptoms guide, we reached out to health experts to help set your mind at ease.
Coronavirus symptoms vs. allergy symptoms: how to tell them apart.
When it comes to determining whether you're experiencing allergy or coronavirus symptoms, the most reliable indicator is the nose, according to Lisa Ballehr, DO, an osteopathic physician and certified practitioner for the Institute for Functional Medicine.
"You most likely won't experience a stuffy or runny nose as a COVID-19 symptom," she says. "However, you may experience loss of smell as an early symptom [of COVID-19]. Allergies generally do not cause loss of smell."
Allergy symptoms generally manifest as some combination of sneezing, watery eyes, a stuffy or running nose, postnasal drainage, a slight cough, and an itchy throat.
Subinoy Das, MD, chief medical officer of Tivic Health and CEO of the U.S. Institute for Advanced Sinus Care and Research, notes that fevers and shortness of breath aren't generally associated with allergies. If you experience one or more of those symptoms, you should speak to your doctor.
"COVID-19 symptoms may include the development of shortness of breath typically five to ten days after the development of the initial fever," he says. "This can be accompanied by fatigue, sore throat, muscle and joint pain, and other symptoms."
Some patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 have endured diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea, which are not easily confused with allergy symptoms.
Ballehr also explains that allergy sufferers usually experience symptoms over a prolonged period of time, while the novel coronavirus symptoms have a rather quick onset.
Coronavirus precautions for allergy sufferers.
It should be relatively easy to tell your allergy symptoms apart from something more serious, but keep in mind that people who have COVID-19 can be asymptomatic, meaning they aren't experiencing any of the symptoms described above. So while your sneeze may absolutely be the result of allergies, if you're an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus, you could still be endangering others by going out in public.
"If you have allergies, you have a higher chance of sneezing and therefore are more likely to spread the virus and get someone else sick since COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets," says Ballehr.
This is why most doctors—including Ballehr and Das—recommend social distancing. Staying home and staying away from people who are not isolated with you in your house is the only way to stop the spread. Ballehr even recommends that those with severe allergies not make essential trips (like to the grocery store or drug store) out of the home if another household member can make them instead.
"If you need allergy medication, see if someone else in the household can get it for you," Ballehr recommends. "Since many people are unaware if they are carriers of the coronavirus or not, it's best for a family member (in the lower risk population) to go out into the public—one who isn't sneezing, in order to minimize the risk of contaminating others."