Springtime Allergies or COVID-19: How to Tell the Difference

Springtime Allergies or COVID-19: How to Tell the Difference

For the past year, every sneeze and sniffle has come with the uneasy thought: Do I have COVID-19? What could once be the sign of a simple cold, a more serious flu, or even just a one-off sneeze now raises eyebrows for some. That feeling may be more pronounced as we enter spring and allergy season. For many allergy sufferers, there may be confusion about whether their sneezing, coughing, and headaches are signs of COVID-19 or just normal allergies. 

Let’s look at some of the similarities and differences between allergies and COVID-19. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more detailed information. And, of course, if you are worried that you may have COVID-19, contact your physician immediately.

Similarities Between Allergies and COVID-19

One of the first things to think about is whether you suffer from seasonal allergies. While it may seem like common sense, the stress of the pandemic and possible symptoms may have you unusually worried. Seasonal allergies tend to emerge around the same point each year depending on the person.

Both allergies and COVID-19 share symptoms such as:

  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • sinus congestion

Along with these, allergies can also bring on additional sneezing and itchy or watery eyes. COVID-19 has those shared symptoms along with fever and chills, muscle aches, a loss of smell, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms more resemble the traditional flu and should be a catalyst for you to seek additional medical attention.

Photo credit: CDC

Differences Between Allergies and COVID-19

Along with their recurrence, allergy symptoms typically respond well to allergy medications. Allergies can also make people feel itchy, which is something not found with COVID-19. Some patients with allergies may also suffer from asthma. This can cause additional coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing, which is not a typical sign of the virus.

A warning sign, though, for COVID-19 may be a fever. Allergies typically do not cause a fever, so check your temperature regularly if you do not feel well. If your temperature rises above the standard 98.6 degrees, you may want to get in contact with a medical professional.

Sneezing, Pollen, and an Increase in COVID-19 Cases

While many factors contribute to the spread of COVID-19, a study released earlier this month showed an increase in coronavirus infections in areas that saw a spike in pollen. Researchers learned that COVID-19 transmissions increased in areas around the world—the study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used data on pollen concentrations from 31 countries across 5 continents—and saw an up to 30 percent increase.

The researchers stressed the virus does not spread specifically from the pollen. While they did not give a firm conclusion as to why there was an increase, one theory argues that allergy season simply causes people to sneeze and cough more.

“When you’re sneezing and coughing, you’re spreading more bodily fluids around,” said study co-author Dr. Leonard Bielory, an allergy specialist at Rutgers University. “If someone is infected with COVID-19 and is sneezing and coughing, that may cause others around them to become infected, too.”

How to Tell If You’re Experiencing COVID-19 Symptoms or Seasonal Allergies

It was also mentioned that some allergies can tax a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to colds and other viruses. The body has to work harder to counterbalance the effects negative effects of the allergy. This does not mean people concerned with contracting COVID-19 should avoid the outdoors during allergy season, but simply continue following mask guidelines, washing hands, and social distancing.

For some allergy sufferers, the wearing of face masks may help ease symptoms. Masks can help block some of the pollen from entering a person’s airway, helping to lessen some of the negative effects.

This can still be a scary time. Until you’ve received the full COVID-19 vaccine, you may still be worried about contracting the disease. While seasonal allergies may bring some initial fear, take a close look at your symptoms, act with caution, and if you are worried, call your doctor.

Want more information about COVID-19? Check out our blog!

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