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VERIFY: COVID-19 or allergies? How to tell the difference between symptoms

With springtime around the corner, people are starting to question whether coughs and sniffles are mere allergies, or something more scary.

WASHINGTON — QUESTION:

How do symptoms differ between COVID-19 and mere allergies? How can we tell the difference? 

ANSWER:

One should be concerned about COVID-19 if they have a fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, joint and muscle aches, or loss of taste and smell. None of these symptoms are common symptoms of allergies.

One should not be as worried about symptoms such as sneezing and itchy or watery eyes. These symptoms are common with allergies. 

Certain symptoms like fatigue and headaches are possible with both COVID-19 and common allergies. Someone with these symptoms might consider taking allergy medication, to try and alleviate the symptoms. These people might wish to take a COVID-19 test to be sure they are negative. 

SOURCES:

Dr. Gregory A. Poland, Director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Clinic

Dr. Sara Narayan, Allergist at Allergy West in Westford, Massachusetts

Mayo Clinic, "COVID-19, cold, allergies and the flu: What are the differences?"

PROCESS:

With Springtime right around the corner, many on social media are preparing for the return of allergies. Many are worried that these typical symptoms might be confused with those of COVID-19. 

"I love playing this game of is it allergies or is it COVID," wrote one person on Twitter

Many were questioning how the symptoms differ between traditional allergies and COVID-19. 

To get the answer, the VERIFY Team turned to a pair of doctors for guidance. 

"It's a great question," said Dr. Greg Poland, the director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Clinic. "And what I like about it is that it's a really practical question that people are going to have to grapple with." 

The VERIFY Team also spoke with Dr. Sara Narayan from Allergy West in Westford, Massachusetts. With their guidance, the VERIFY Team was able to create the following Venn-Diagram. 

Credit: Evan Koslof
VERIFY: Breaking down the symptoms between allergies, COVID-19, and both.

"On the allergy side," said Dr. Narayan. "We're listing sneezing. We're listing itchy, watery eyes. Itchy nose. Itchy ears. And we're listing runny, stuffy nose."

These symptoms are not typically present in patients, suffering from COVID-19. Meanwhile, there's a long list of symptoms of COVID-19, that is not common for those with allergies. 

"If it's fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, loss of taste and smell," said Dr. Poland. "You need to go be tested for COVID. That's not allergies. Don't treat it with allergy medication." 

Joint and muscle pain is another symptom of COVID-19, which is not common with allergies, according to our experts. 

Meanwhile, there are some symptoms that show up for patients suffering from both allergies and COVID-19. 

"In the middle," said Dr. Poland. "Which could happen with either one, would be other mild symptoms that somebody might have like fatigue or headache."

Our experts recommended taking allergy medication for symptoms listed in the middle of the Venn Diagram if it's consistent with their typical seasonal symptoms. 

According to our experts, those suffering from any of these symptoms can also take a COVID-19 test, to know for sure whether they are suffering from the illness.