Mar 23, 2020 2:30 PM

Author: Shaun Ajay


Man with allergies: Is It COVID-19? Or Is It Just My Allergies?

Revised April 13, 2020 to add infographic. Originally published March 23, 2020. 

Many might wonder whether their itchy throat or runny nose could mean something other than an allergic reaction. Could it be COVID-19? Let’s break down the facts.

“If you’re allergic to pollen, this spring season might be a little concerning when trees are starting to bloom,” says Aaron Kobernick, MD, an allergist and immunologist at University of Utah Health. “We are currently at moderate levels of pollen right now.”

However, it’s important to differentiate between allergic reactions and symptoms of a viral infection. It’s all in the pattern. Allergic reactions can include anything from itchiness in your eyes, nose, and mouth area to a runny nose or cough. However, these symptoms are not always indicative of a virus infection.

These reactions are caused by our sensitized mast cells in the sinus, nose, eyes, mouth, and throat area. When these cells are exposed to an allergen, they release histamines, which are responsible for these inflammatory responses.

What Are the Symptoms of Coronavirus?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, and a fever. “You just don’t get fevers from allergies like you do with the flu, COVID-19, or the common cold,” Kobernick says.

It is also rare to have a stuffy or runny nose with COVID-19. The disease causes symptoms like body aches and tiredness that aren’t associated with environmental or perennial allergies.

Unlike allergies, a viral infection occurs as a cascade of events, mediated by chemical messengers as a result of being infected. “The cause is different,” says Kobernick, “but the end result [coughing or sneezing] can look very similar.”

Allergies are generally prolonged, whereas COVID-19 symptoms are contracted and progress more seriously over a shorter period of time.

04-uofuhealth_coronavirus-allergies_symptomgraph_1080x1080_apr10-1.jpg

When Should I Be Concerned?

“Tearing of the eyes, swelling, etc. are perennial allergies due to allergens like animals, dust, or mold,” says Mili Shum, MD, allergist and immunologist at U of U Health. “Your symptoms will be the same as last year.”

Cough, post-nasal drip, or a history of asthma are known triggers for allergic reactions. For people who are aware of their allergies, the symptoms should not be out of proportion from reactions in the past. If the cough feels different to you, or if you have a fever, this is most likely not an allergic reaction but something else.

“It’s still early in the COVID-19 phase,” Shum says. “People are still attributing their symptoms to their allergies.”

If your cough gets worse to the point you have difficulty breathing, call your health care provider and seek immediate medical attention.

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