Allergies, COVID and cold and flu viruses share many symptoms. Yet, diagnosing allergies is a completely different process from diagnosing COVID, flu or cold viruses.
When you get a sore throat, cough or congestion, you may automatically start to worry that your symptoms are COVID-related (when in reality, there are several conditions that may be causing your symptoms).
If you’re wondering, Is it allergies or COVID? Find out the difference between COVID symptoms vs allergies and how to get diagnosed for both.
It depends. Only a medical professional can properly diagnose your allergy or COVID symptoms.
Allergies and COVID share similar symptoms (such as a sore throat, cough, runny nose and nasal congestion), so it’s important to see your health care provider who can take a good history and suggest if you need to get tested for allergies or COVID to diagnose your symptoms.
COVID has added a lot of stress to our lives, in part because there are different manifestations of the disease including asymptomatic infection.
Elucidating whether you have COVID symptoms vs allergies or a garden variety cold or flu can take some detective work.
Clinical history is always helpful here — is the zip code where you live and work an area of high community spread? Have you had recent close contact with anyone who is sick or has COVID? Have you been in a high-risk setting such as an indoor crowded environment (especially in a higher risk area), and if so were you wearing a mask?
All these types of questions speak to your level of protection from COVID and can make the clinical probability of your symptoms being due to COVID higher or lower.
Allergy sufferers may know when it’s allergies because year after year they have the same symptoms especially seasonally.
Additionally, someone with a cold, flu or COVID may have more systemic complaints such as fever, gastrointestinal symptoms, acute loss of smell and severe fatigue and muscle aches.
While COVID shares many symptoms with other conditions (including allergies), it has some distinct features that may or may not be present with a COVID-19 infection.
If you’ve suffered from a loss of taste or smell, you may have COVID (though sometimes a loss of smell resulting from a cold or the flu is also possible).
According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of COVID may include:
Emergency warning signs for COVID-19 may include:
There is some overlap between COVID symptoms vs allergies.
Allergies are distinct in that they can sometimes present with a clear trigger-symptom history — for example if you were around a cat and developed symptoms.
Additionally, allergies may present with itching, which is very common for allergies but not viruses.
Itchy skin, ears, nose and eyes are common with allergies. Unfortunately, some of the most common symptoms of COVID also happen to be the most common symptoms of allergies, too.
The most common symptoms of allergies may include:
While diagnosing allergies is a totally different process from diagnosing COVID, there are some ways you can rule out allergies. For example, if you usually suffer from spring allergies and your symptoms have surfaced in the fall, you may want to get tested for the flu or COVID.
Medical professionals don’t recommend self-diagnosing COVID or allergy symptoms.
The diagnosis of COVID can only be made through clinical history and confirmatory testing. This is not something that can ever be self-diagnosed just based on symptoms — unless you clearly are living or working with someone who has COVID, you were exposed to them and have developed symptoms.
Allergy symptoms tend to follow a seasonal pattern or a trigger.
Still for some, allergy symptoms are so infrequent patients may wonder if their sore throat headache and sinus pressure are due to COVID or allergies. In these cases, testing is helpful.
Chronic allergy sufferers can also get tested for allergies to understand what triggers are a problem for them year after year.
The only way to truly know if you have COVID is by getting tested.
There are two types of COVID tests that are currently widely used, rapid antigen and PCR tests. These tests may be available at your doctor’s office, a COVID testing clinic, hospital, urgent care center or for at-home use.
Blood tests for COVID typically are only used to check for past immunity and shouldn’t be the only test to diagnose active disease.
To get tested for allergies, you can either visit a medical professional (such as an allergist, ENT or another healthcare provider who offers allergy testing) or get tested with an at-home testing kit.
The two most common types of allergy tests are skin scratch tests and blood tests.
Before recommending an allergy test, your clinician will take a detailed clinical history and may perform a physical exam.
Skin scratch tests are performed at a medical professional’s office.
During this test, your clinician will lightly scratch your skin with allergens using a plastic device. If you develop a reaction at that site, your clinician will share the significance and if it means that you are indeed allergic.
Your healthcare provider likely can test for multiple allergens at once.
There are some cases where you may need an allergy blood test instead of a scratch test.
If you are currently taking medications that interfere with testing if you have atopic dermatitis or another dermatitis that covers much of your arms or back, your doctor may order a blood test for you at your local lab testing center.
After visiting a lab to get a blood draw, your results should be available within a few days.
At-home allergy tests are convenient and effective. All you need to do is order the test online, follow the instructions once you get your kit in the mail, and mail back your sample to the lab. Results are available usually within a few business days.
Curex’s at-home allergy testing kit can test for several allergies at once — including some of the most common seasonal allergies, like pollen, trees, mold, ragweed and more.
Curex also now offers a concierge test, too. A medical assistant will travel to your home or office and perform a blood draw to test for some of the most common indoor and outdoor allergies. This is ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to travel to a lab or feels uncomfortable self-testing.
The treatments for COVID and allergies are very different.
Treatment for COVID often depends on the severity of your symptoms and your medical history. Mild cases involve self-care at home and isolation. For more severe symptoms (or if you are a high-risk patient) you should check in with their healthcare provider immediately.
Even if COVID symptoms are mild, it is still a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider.
For allergies, treatment is multi-pronged and involves allergen avoidance, over-the-counter and prescription allergy medications and allergy immunotherapy.
According to the CDD, doctors may advise your COVID symptoms to be treated either at home or under medical supervision. Before determining which treatment is right for you, talk to your medical professional.
The CDC also recommends calling ahead before visiting a doctor in person if you have symptoms of COVID.
If you believe you have COVID, the CDC recommends contacting your doctor by phone or telehealth appointment to determine the best course of treatment. You may be instructed to manage symptoms at home.
Communicate to any doctors you plan to see in person you have (or may have) COVID. The CDC also recommends:
If your symptoms are severe, the CDC states that your doctor may recommend seeking emergency or other in-person care.
Allergy treatment is often a two-fold process that includes avoidance and managing symptoms. If you’re already suffering from allergy symptoms, allergy medications may help to manage those symptoms.
If you suffer from seasonal allergies or environmental allergies, such as pet allergies, you may want to avoid the offending allergens to prevent symptoms.
Allergy avoidance is exactly what it sounds like: avoiding allergens to avoid symptoms. If you know what you’re allergic to, you may simply try to avoid these allergens.
This is partially why getting tested for allergies is so important.
If you’re allergic to outdoor allergens, avoid tracking these allergens indoors by removing your clothes upon entry and showering or bathing to remove them from your hair and skin.
If you’re allergic to animals, avoid homes or outdoor spaces where these animals live. If you’re allergic to mold or fungus, avoid damp or humid spaces with little airflow or organic material during mold and fungus season.
Allergy medication has proven effective at reducing the symptoms of allergies. Common forms of allergy medication may include antihistamines, nasal steroids and saline sprays and drops.
Allergy immunotherapy doesn’t just treat the symptoms of allergies; it treats their root cause.
When they enter the body, the immune system views them as a threat and creates histamine to fight them off. These histamines are what cause uncomfortable allergy symptoms.
This may help the immune system to develop an immunity to these allergens.
Sublingual allergy immunotherapy may be taken at home daily.
If you're wondering if your symptoms are allergies or COVID, you may want to get tested for both conditions. When it comes to COVID symptoms vs allergies, the treatments also vary greatly.