If you're an allergy sufferer, the arrival of warmer days not only signals the coming of spring, but it also means the onset of runny noses, sneezing and sniffles. If you haven't already, you've probably found yourself asking, how do I know for certain if my symptoms are due to allergies or COVID-19?
"It can be a tricky question," says Christie Barnes, MD, Nebraska Medicine otolaryngologist. "The key is to determine whether you are having additional symptoms on top of your normal allergy symptoms."
This Q&A answers common questions you may have this fall as you manage your allergies and concerns about COVID-19.
How do allergy and COVID-19 symptoms differ?
Some of the most common allergy symptoms include sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, congestion or runny nose. Common COVID-19 symptoms include fever and chills, muscle and body aches, loss of taste or small, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms in which both allergies and COVID-19 can have in common include cough, fatigue, headache, sore throat, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, congestion or runny nose.
"While allergy sufferers may have difficulty breathing due to congestion, allergy sufferers without asthma typically won't have shortness of breath, nor will they have a fever," says Dr. Barnes. "They also usually experience facial pressure rather than a headache."
When should I seek medical advice to determine if I may have COVID-19?
- Your allergies are not improving after taking over-the-counter antihistamines, nasal sprays, eye drops and/or allergy prescriptions after three to four days and your symptoms appear to be getting worse
- You have developed additional symptoms such as a significant headache, fever, cough, decreased sense of taste or smell or gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
- You are experiencing allergy and /or COVID-19-like symptoms and you've been exposed to someone with COVID-19
How do I get tested for COVID-19?
If you are experiencing symptoms and think you may have the virus, talk to your doctor first to determine if they think you should be tested and they can direct you to a testing site. Your doctor can also schedule an appointment to be tested at one of our testing sites.
How quickly will I develop symptoms of COVID-19 compared to allergies?
Allergy symptoms usually start within 48 hours of being exposed to the allergen. Around late March, allergy-causing plants and molds begin to proliferate in Nebraska and continue to wreak havoc on allergy sufferers through October. According to the Asthma & Allergy Center, tree pollen is currently high in the Omaha metro area.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 has an incubation period of up to 14 days and the average time from infection to becoming symptomatic is five days. While the exact time from infection to the ability to transmit the disease is uncertain, it is believed that the virus can be transmitted to another person approximately two days before symptoms start.
Does having allergies put me a greater risk for contracting COVID-19?
"Having allergies does not put you at greater risk for contracting COVID-19," says Dr. Barnes. "It's your behaviors that put you at greater risk."
To reduce your risk, continue using safe practices when you are away from your home if you are not vaccinated against COVID-19. These include wearing a face mask, social distancing, limiting large social gatherings and the use of hand sanitizers and frequent hand washing.
Does having allergies put me at greater risk for developing more severe symptoms of COVID-19?
"If you have allergies, you are not at greater risk of developing more severe symptoms of COVID-19," says Dr. Barnes. "However, individuals who have allergies, can sometimes have asthma too. Having asthma can raise your risk of developing a more severe course of COVID-19."
Will wearing a mask reduce the spread of allergies as well as COVID-19?
In addition to reducing the transmission of respiratory droplets from individuals who may have COVID-19, wearing a mask may also help filter out some larger pollens, especially if your mask includes a small filter and you wear your mask outdoors, notes Dr. Barnes. Unfortunately, smaller pollens will still likely make their way in, even with a mask on, and will not eliminate the need to use allergy medications.