COVID-19, or just seasonal allergies?

By Ying Wang, BSc. (Pharm), RPh.

woman sneezing in a field of flowers

As days grow longer and pollen fills the air, one thing is clear: allergy season is upon us. But this year, allergy season is complicated by the coexistence of a global pandemic. Every sneeze, cough, or tickle of the throat is confounded by the thought: are these just allergies, or do I have COVID-19? Many symptoms of seasonal allergies and COVID-19 do overlap, but thankfully there are a few ways to tell them apart.

Here are a few symptoms to compare and contrast between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies:

  • Fever, chills, and body aches are common symptoms of COVID-19. However, these symptoms almost never arise from seasonal allergies.
  • Cough may appear in both conditions, though it is much more likely in COVID-19. Dry cough is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. In comparison, cough may occur rarely from allergies due to throat irritation from a post-nasal drip.
  • Runny nose and nasal congestion are a common symptom of allergy. However, they rarely occur from COVID-19.
  • Loss of taste and smell is a hallmark symptom of COVID-19. When it is caused by COVID-19, this symptom is characterized by its sudden onset, and lack of co-existing nasal or sinus congestion. In contrast, a loss of taste or smell is rare in seasonal allergies; if it does happen, it is usually secondary to a nasal blockage from runny nose or congestion.
  • Itchy, watery eyes are a good indicator of seasonal allergies. In contrast, COVID-19 does not cause itching or watering of the eyes.
  • Sneezing is another symptom common of seasonal allergies; however, it rarely manifests in COVID-19.

If you are ever unsure whether your symptoms are secondary to COVID-19 or allergies, follow these self-assessment guidelines to see if you need to be tested for COVID-19 (adapted from the BCCDC):

  • Get tested right away if you exhibit ONE or more of any of the following symptoms:
    • Fever or chills
    • Cough (either new onset or worsening/exacerbation of chronic cough)
    • Loss of sense of smell or taste
    • Difficulty breathing
  • Get tested if any TWO or more of the following symptoms persist after 24 hours:
    • Sore throat
    • Loss of appetite
    • Extreme fatigue or tiredness
    • Headache
    • Body aches
    • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea 

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