Allergies or COVID-19? Understanding the Signs and Symptoms

SPRINGFIELD — When COVID-19 arrived in the U.S. earlier this year, the country was at the height of its flu season.

Since there is an overlap between some symptoms of the novel coronavirus and the flu, many people, at the mere sign of symptoms, were concerned they might have COVID-19 and not simply the flu. Now, similar questions are arising as allergy season is in full swing and will continue into the fall.

“For the most part, those who already suffer from allergies should know whether or not they are experiencing typical seasonal-allergy symptoms. They will have a stuffy nose that disappears and returns and that gets better on allergy medications, and they are not ‘ill.’ Typically, they are not short of breath or have a cough, unless they have asthma,” said Dr. Arnando Paez, chief of Infectious Diseases at Baystate Medical Center.

Watery, itchy eyes, an itchy nose, and itchy skin are also sure signs of an allergy, he noted.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, an allergy is a chronic condition involving an abnormal reaction to an ordinarily harmless substance called an allergen, such as dust mites, tree weed, grass pollen, and more.

If you have an allergy, your immune system views the allergen as an invader, and a chain reaction is initiated. White blood cells of the immune system produce IgE antibodies, which attach themselves to special cells called mast cells, causing a release of potent chemicals such as histamine.

These chemicals cause symptoms such as itching in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, or eyes; sneezing; stuffy or runny nose; tearing eyes; and dark circles under the eyes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among the many symptoms of COVID-19 that have been reported are fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, and loss of appetite (all common), as well as muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.

“Over time, new symptoms have been added to the list, including altered mentation or confusion; toe swelling or redness, which we refer to as COVID toes; rash, which is part of the multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children; and neck pain,” Paez said. “Remember, there are those without symptoms, referred to as asymptomatic, who still may have COVID-19.”

A chart on the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology offers a comparison of symptoms for COVID-19, allergies, flu and the common cold. The chart is available by clicking here.

“If you are unsure about your symptoms and what is causing them, whether COVID-19 or your allergies, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor,” Paez said.

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