Is it allergies?
As the pollen starts to fly, an immunologist shares tips on how to tell the difference between seasonal allergies and COVID-19 symptoms.
Stuffy nose? Cough? Wheezing?
As allergy season ramps up during the COVID-19 pandemic, many have wondered whether their respiratory symptoms are due to the novel coronavirus.
Allergist and immunologist Nicholas Hartog, MD, provides clarity between seasonal allergies and the virus.
“For telling the difference, history does matter,” the Spectrum Health doctor said. “If you have had allergy symptoms every spring and these are similar symptoms to what you had during previous seasons, this would be more likely to be allergies. If you have never had spring allergies before, but all of the sudden have symptoms, this is less likely to be new onset allergies.”
The odds that your respiratory symptoms may point to COVID-19 increase if you’ve had close exposure to someone known to have COVID-19.
Common COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and body aches. Common allergy symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing and itchy or watery eyes. The two share several occasional symptoms, which can cause confusion for people.
In terms of symptoms between the two conditions that are very different: fever, body aches and gastrointestinal issues.
A high fever that lasts several days or longer than a week has become a hallmark characteristic of people who test positive for COVID-19. “Slight temperature elevations can happen with allergies, though this is not common,” Dr. Hartog said. Watch out for a sustained fever in excess of 101.4 degrees.
Body aches, much like influenza, are common in COVID-19 but rare in those suffering seasonal allergies.
Another differentiator would be gastrointestinal symptoms.
“We have begun to notice GI symptoms happen not rarely in COVID-19,” Dr. Hartog said. “This can include abdominal pain and diarrhea. These do not happen in allergies.”
GI symptoms, along with other symptoms of COVID-19, could be a clue you have the virus, but GI symptoms alone are not a primary indicator.
“This does not mean everyone with diarrhea should be concerned,” he cautioned.
The same goes for a loss of smell or sore throat, both of which occasionally occur with seasonal allergies.
In terms of difficulty in breathing, seasonal allergies could worsen wheezing in people who have known asthma.
“Other than that, allergies do not worsen your breathing,” Dr. Hartog said.
While many patients with COVID-19 experience shortness of breath, they do not experience the hallmark asthma symptom of wheezing.
“Check out the symptom checker below,” Dr. Hartog said. “And, if in doubt, please call your primary care provider.”