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How to tell the difference between seasonal allergies and COVID-19

COVID-19 and seasonal allergies cause many of the same signs and symptoms. However, there are some key differences.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Allergy season is one of those things you just can’t avoid and it may be worse this year, due to warmer temperatures. The problem is that allergy symptoms overlap with symptoms of the Delta variant of COVID-19. It can be nearly impossible to tell the difference.

“It is really, very hard to impossible to know whether you just have allergies or if you have COVID,” said Dr. John Goldman, infectious disease physician at UPMC.

The hallmark signs of COVID-19 include loss of taste and smell, but that is less frequent among patients with the Delta variant. Doctors are seeing more COVID-19 patients with a cough, sore throat and runny nose—which is also what someone with seasonal allergies usually experiences.

Rachel Yonkunas: Have you seen patients who just had a runny nose, itchy eyes, sore throat and they in fact had COVID?

Dr. Goldman: Oh yeah, multiple times.

Pennsylvanians suffer from allergies almost year-round and September is the most intense for ragweed pollen. Symptoms may be worse this year due to warmer temperatures and 2020 lockdowns that kept most people indoors.

So how can you tell if you have allergies or COVID-19?

“Some of the things that should make you worry is if you suddenly have new allergies,” explained Dr. Goldman.

Doctors suggest getting tested for COVID-19 if your symptoms seem worse than previous years, if you don’t usually have allergies or if you spend time around people who are at a high risk for serious infection from the coronavirus.

Though COVID-19 can cause shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, seasonal allergies don't usually cause these symptoms unless you have a respiratory condition, such as asthma, that can be triggered by pollen exposure.

Symptom check: Is it COVID-19 or seasonal allergies?

Credit: WPMT
COVID-19 and allergies: What are the differences?

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