Allergy Symptoms versus COVID-19

By Dr. Adam Williams, Allergy & Asthma

For the allergy sufferer, the COVID-19 pandemic could not come at a worse time. Central Oregon has been several weeks into an earlier-than-usual juniper pollen season, which has resulted in the onset of expected allergy symptoms for those who are allergic to it. And now, of course, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a respiratory virus whose symptoms (to the untrained professional) can be confused with the flu, the common cold and allergy symptoms.

With several weeks of allergies ahead for most allergy sufferers and the looming concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, many people may be wondering how to tell the difference between pollen allergies and COVID-19.

Well, it really is not that difficult in most cases to tell the difference, as there are not too many symptoms that actually overlap. COVID-19 is a form of viral pneumonia, an acute lung infection, whereas seasonal allergies mainly involve symptoms affecting the nose and eyes. However, for people with asthma who also have pollen allergies that affects their asthma, it may be a little harder to tell the difference between an asthma attack and viral pneumonia.

Here are some simple, though not foolproof, ways to help distinguish between allergies and COVID-19. There can always be exceptions to the ways people experience allergies and COVID-19 that need to be considered. This information should not be used to self-diagnose.

The main symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, extreme fatigue, and shortness of breath. The main symptoms of pollen allergies include runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery red eyes. COVID-19 does not typically have these nose and eye symptoms. Allergies NEVER cause fever or body aches and pains. However, allergies can certainly make people feel tired and lacking in energy. Coughing and shortness of breath would only occur in allergy sufferers who also have asthma triggered by pollen allergies. Sore throat and headache can be symptoms of both COVID-19 and pollen allergies.

Symptom                           Allergies                  COVID-19

Runny, stuffy nose          Common                 Rare

Sneezing                           Common                 No

Itchy eyes, nose, throat Common                 No

Fever                                 No                           Common

Cough                               No*                         Common

Shortness of breath       No*                         Common

Body aches and pains   No                           Common

Fatigue                             Sometimes              Common

Headache                        Sometimes              Sometimes

Sore throat                      Sometimes              Sometimes

*Cough and shortness of breath should not be considered symptoms of allergies but can be present in people with asthma that is triggered by allergies.