COVID-19 or Allergies? 3 Ways to Tell the Difference

You’re sitting on the bus when you feel the need to cough. You’re wearing a mask, but the other passengers still look at you warily, and it makes you nervous. Are your seasonal allergies acting up again, or could your cough be a symptom of the more serious COVID-19? 

Seasonal allergies and COVID-19 can have similar symptoms, so it’s important to know the difference between the two—not only for your own peace of mind, but also to know when you should get tested for COVID-19 to protect those around you.

Dr. Sami Nallamshetty, an allergist at Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health, shares three ways to tell the differences between the sniffles, coughs, and sneezes caused by seasonal allergies and a coronavirus infection.

COVID-19 vs Seasonal Allergies 

COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). The coronavirus is contagious, meaning it can be spread from one person to another.  About 1 in 5 people don’t develop any symptoms even after being infected, so many aren’t even aware that they have it. 

Seasonal allergies refer to the symptoms caused when outdoor plants release allergens into the air. Seasonal allergies are very common, affecting more than 50 million Americans each year. Allergies are not contagious and not caused by a virus. 

Allergies to food, metals, medications, and other substances do not typically cause symptoms similar to COVID-19, so this blog will mainly focus on seasonal allergies. 

3 Ways to Tell the Difference

1. Identify Your Symptoms

Both seasonal allergies and COVID-19 may lead to coughing, as well as a decreased sense of taste and/or smell. But allergies can also cause an itchy  nose, eyes, and ears, all of which are uncommon symptoms of coronavirus. COVID-19 may also cause flu-like symptoms like body aches, chills, and a fever, which are not typically associated with allergies.

When thinking about your symptoms, ask yourself these questions:

  • Did your symptoms start after being in a large group or being exposed to someone else who was sick?
  • Do you normally have seasonal allergies? If so, have your symptoms suddenly gotten worse?
  • Do you find relief with OTC allergy medicine?
  • Have you developed a fever? (A fever is not a sign of allergies.)
  • Are you experiencing severe fatigue and/or shortness of breath? (If so, seek medical care immediately.)

Furthermore, if you’ve brought a new furry friend into the house since the pandemic began, you may also be experiencing an allergic reaction to pet dander. Symptoms of pet allergies are similar to seasonal allergies and do not include fever, aches, or chills.

2. Consider Your Medical History

Your medical history can also provide a clue as to the cause of your symptoms. You may be experiencing allergies if you identify with any of the following:

  • You’ve had seasonal allergies before and your current symptoms are consistent with what you’ve experienced in the past
  • You’ve received an allergy test that indicated you are allergic to ragweed, mold, pollen, or another airborne allergen
  • You recently moved to a new area that sees high seasonal pollen counts

While experts recommend wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth while out in public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a mask can also help protect you from inhaling pollen and mold spores while outdoors. Just be sure to wash your mask after each use or use disposable masks.

Is it possible to have seasonal allergies and COVID-19 at the same time?

Yes, it’s possible to contract COVID-19 on top of seasonal allergies.

You should call your doctor if your regular seasonal allergy symptoms seem to be a lot worse this year or if you’re experiencing any new or unusual symptoms. They may recommend you get tested for the coronavirus.

3. Get a Test

If you don’t have a history of allergies or have symptoms that aren’t consistent with allergies, you should consider getting tested. 

If your COVID-19 test comes back negative and you still don’t know the cause of your sniffling and sneezing, you can also get tested for seasonal allergies.

What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?

1. If you think you were exposed to the coronavirus, stay at home and don’t invite guests over. 

It’s important to limit the contact you have with people outside of your household to avoid spreading the virus and infecting others. Don’t leave to go shopping or visit friends, even if you remain socially distant and wear a mask. If you get food delivered, choose a contactless delivery option.

2. Schedule an appointment online or over the phone to get tested.

You can search online for local testing facilities here. If you live near Wesley Chapel or Zephyrhills, FL, you can book an appointment at your nearest Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health urgent care for a coronavirus test by calling 813.929.3600.

It’s always better to book in advance when possible. First-come-first-serve testing locations may have long lines or limited availability. Scheduling ahead ensures you get the test you need as quickly as possible.

While waiting for test results, stay at home and don’t meet with people outside of your household. Other members of your household should also stay at home. 

If you test positive for the coronavirus, the health care professionals from your testing facility will advise you on what to do next.

3. Call 911 or your local emergency facility if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • A bluish tinge to the lips
  • Trouble waking up or staying awake
  • A new sense of confusion or loss of awareness

You should also seek immediate medical care if you’re experiencing any symptoms that concern you, even if they’re not listed here.

Treat Your Allergy Symptoms at Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health 

If you’re suffering from seasonal allergies that don’t respond to over-the-counter medications, an allergist can help. They can prescribe long-term therapies, like allergy shots, to help get your symptoms under control. They can also administer allergy tests to identify the specific substances that you’re allergic to and create a personalized treatment plan. 

Meet Dr. Sami Nallamshetty 

Dr. Sami Nallamshetty is a Harvard University trained, board-certified allergist at Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health specializing in treating allergies in both children and adults. Her studies on allergies and asthma have received widespread recognition and publication in top scientific journals. 

Dr. Nallamshetty and her allergy team are passionate about helping patients get their allergies under control so that they can lead healthier, happier lives. They also specialize in treating other immune conditions, including asthma, eczema, food allergies, , and sinus diseases.

To learn more about your treatment options, schedule an appointment with Dr. Sami Nallamshetty and her allergy team in  Carrollwood, Brandon, or Wiregrass, Florida. Telemedicine appointments are also available.

Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always talk with your doctor before starting or stopping medications or treatments.


Allergy, Asthma & Immunology • COVID-19

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