The Difference Between Coronavirus & Allergies, Explained By Doctors

Spring typically means allergy season, but the spring of 2020 will go down in history as coronavirus season. Allergies are typically anywhere from mildly to extremely annoying, but your allergy symptoms might be more worrisome than irksome during the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re starting to cough a lot, how can you tell the difference between COVID-19 and regular allergies?

A recent study published in the journal Allergy found that allergies are not associated with increased risk of coronavirus infection. The study, conducted with 140 COVID-19 patients in China, found that neither allergies nor asthma made people more likely to get coronavirus. While it’s good to know that allergies don’t make you more susceptible, it also helps to be able to distinguish allergy symptoms from viral symptoms.

"With a mild winter for most areas of the country and now warmer weather, allergies are starting to flare," says Dr. John Whyte, MD, chief medical officer of WebMD. "The symptoms can be similar to coronavirus but there are important differences. Allergies don’t cause fatigue or muscle or body aches." Additionally, "fever is a hallmark of COVID-19 and will not occur with allergies," Dr. Sharon Orrange, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and medical expert for GoodRx, tells Bustle.

Per the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms of coronavirus include fever, tiredness, and a dry cough that doesn’t involve mucus or blood. Some COVID-19 patients might experience aches and pains, congestion or runny nose, a sore throat, or diarrhea, but fever is the most common symptom. Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing may occur in serious cases.

If you have seasonal allergies, you’re more likely to have a runny nose, congestion, and itchy or watery eyes, which are not typically found in coronavirus patients, Dr. Whyte says. If you tend to experience allergies each year, he tells Bustle, "monitor symptoms closely and try to distinguish if they’re different this year than they were in previous years."

Sometimes, however, you do know that it’s only allergies — but the people around you might not. Many cities around the country now have orders for citizens to practice social distancing — avoiding crowded places, working from home, and staying six feet away from others — to help prevent coronavirus’ spread. (Coronavirus is thought to spread through contact with infected respiratory droplets, aka what comes out when you cough or sneeze.) Practice good hygiene by coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and washing your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds afterwards.

"If for some reason you think you may have coronavirus or been exposed to coronavirus, be sure to call your doctor’s office first before going there," Dr. Whyte tells Bustle. But if your symptoms mostly consist of the sneezing and itchy nose that usually creep up this time of year, the likely cause is allergies, not coronavirus.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here.


Dr. John Whyte, MD, chief medical officer, WebMD.

Dr. Sharon Orrange, MD, GoodRx medical expert and associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC

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