Allergies or COVID-19? Get Help Deciphering Your Symptoms

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By Dr. David Britchkow, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare of New Jersey and Pennsylvania

Experiencing a sneeze, cough or tickle in the throat may be more nerve-wracking these days with COVID-19 symptoms still swirling. Before worry sets in, remember that spring is the time of year for seasonal allergies, which affect close to 50 million Americans each year.    

How do you determine if your symptoms are COVID-19 or allergies? To help you understand the difference, it may be best to look at the hallmark symptoms of each. 

COVID-19 

COVID-19 is a viral respiratory illness and may spread through droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks

The most common COVID-19 symptoms include:

·       Fever

·       Cough

·       Shortness of breath

·       Fatigue

Other symptoms may include:

·       Aches

·       Nasal congestion or runny nose

·       Sore throat 

·       Diarrhea

·       Nausea

·       Loss of taste or smell

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says COVID-19 symptoms that require immediate medical attention include:

·       Trouble breathing

·       Persistent pain or pressure in the chest

·       New confusion or inability to rouse

·       Bluish lips or face

If you believe you have any of the severe COVID-19 symptoms listed, please contact your doctor. If you have been exposed to COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms, call your health care provider. They may recommend you take an at-home, over-the-counter COVID-19 test.

Allergies

Allergies occur when a person’s immune system reacts to a foreign substance, such as pollen, pet dander or certain foods. While fever is a common symptom of COVID-19, it’s not often associated with allergies. The CDC notes if you don’t have a fever, loss of taste or smell or trouble breathing, allergies are the more likely culprit, if you’re not feeling well. Itchy or watery eyes and sneezing is also more common in seasonal allergies than COVID-19.

Allergy symptoms may include:

·       Itchy eyes

·       Itchy nose

·       Sneezing

·       Runny congested nose

·       Sore throat or cough associated with post-nasal drip

Allergies may linger for months in the spring season. If you feel symptomatic, the time of year may be a good indicator that you may have allergies. COVID-19 symptoms typically progress more rapidly over a shorter period of time, appearing 2 to 14 days after possible exposure. 

Another indicator that you may have allergies is if you are taking over-the-counter antihistamines or steroid nasal sprays to help your symptoms and those medicines help you feel better. There is no current evidence that shows allergy sufferers are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. 

For more information on the symptoms you may be experiencing, consider using the COVID-19 symptom checker for help in determining if you have COVID-19 symptoms. You can also learn more about your symptoms by contacting your doctor or health care provider.

For more COVID-19 resources, visit uhc.com