How Is COVID-19 Different From Allergies? Chart

Medically Reviewed on 5/6/2022
How Is COVID-19 Different From Allergies
COVID-19 symptoms are often similar to symptoms of seasonal allergies, so it is important to know how to tell the difference. Learn how to distinguish between the two

COVID-19 is caused by a virus and therefore contagious, whereas allergies are caused by an excessive immune response to a triggering allergen. However, COVID-19 symptoms are often similar to symptoms of seasonal allergies, so it is important to know how to tell the difference. 

If you are unsure whether your symptoms indicate a COVID-19 infection or allergies, however, it is best to get tested just in case to ensure that you receive timely treatment and avoid spreading the disease.

COVID-19 vs. allergy symptoms: chart

Allergies cause persistent symptoms, such as sneezing and wheezing, that can linger for several weeks. COVID-19 causes symptoms such as fever, body aches, and coughing, which are uncommon in seasonal allergies.

Table. Comparison of COVID-19 vs allergy symptoms
Characteristics and symptoms COVID-19 Allergies
Onset of symptoms 2-4 days after exposure (gradual) Abrupt onset of symptoms or could be insidious in some cases
Symptoms may worsen Yes No
Severity None to severe Mild
Contagious Yes No
Fever Common (greater or equal to 100 F) Almost never
Chills Possible No
Cough Common (usually dry) Sometimes the patient may have a dry cough
Difficulty breathing Common in severe cases Rare (if the patient has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma)
Headache Sometimes Rare
Muscle pain Sometimes No
Fatigue May be progressive Rare
Extreme exhaustion Sometimes No
Sore throat Possible Sometimes
Nasal congestion Possible Possible
Runny nose Possible Common
Sneezing Possible Common
Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea Possible No
New onset loss of sense of taste or smell Sometimes (sudden and noticeable) Sometimes (associated with nasal congestion)
Itchy eyes, nose, ears, or throat No Common
Watery eyes No Common
Average recovery period Possibly after 10 days of exposure If you are exposed

How to distinguish between COVID-19 and allergies

COVID-19 can be contracted in addition to seasonal allergies. If your typical seasonal allergy symptoms seem to be much worse this year or you are having any new or unusual symptoms, you should contact your doctor. They may advise you to get tested for COVID-19. 

The following may help you understand what is causing your symptoms:

  • Symptoms: 
    • Both allergies and COVID-19 can cause coughing and loss of taste and smell. However, allergies can cause an itchy nose, eyes, and ears, which are unusual COVID-19 symptoms.
    • COVID-19 can cause flu-like symptoms, such as body pains, chills and fever, which are not usually linked with allergies.
  • Medical history: 
    • Your medical history can help you figure out what is causing your symptoms. You may be suffering from allergies if you: 
      • Have had seasonal allergies previously, and your present symptoms are similar to those you have had in the past.
      • Have had an allergy test and discovered that you are allergic to ragweed, mold, pollen or another airborne allergen.
      • Recently relocated to a new area with high seasonal pollen concentrations.
  • Tests: 
    • If you do not have a history of allergies or are experiencing symptoms that are not consistent with allergies, you should be tested for COVID-19. 
    • If your COVID-19 test results are negative and you still do not know what is causing your sniffling and sneezing, you may consider being tested for seasonal allergies.

What are treatment options for COVID-19 and allergies?

Treatment for COVID-19

  • Rest
  • Hydration
  • Nutrition
  • Medications:
    • Paxlovid
    • Sotrovimab
    • Remdesivir
    • Bebtelovimab
    • Molnupiravir

Treatment for seasonal allergies

  • Avoiding the triggers
  • Over-the-counter nasal sprays and eye drops
  • Antihistamines
  • Decongestants
  • Allergen immunotherapy (allergy injections) entails getting little quantities of the allergens to which you are allergic (typically through injection) until you grow desensitized to it and your immune system quits fighting it

What are prevention strategies for COVID-19 and allergies?

Protecting yourself from COVID-19

  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Wash your hands often for 20 seconds with soap and water. 
  • When soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • When in crowded places, maintain social distance and wear a mask.
  • Regularly disinfect surfaces.
  • Try not to touch your face frequently.

Protecting yourself from allergies

  • Stay indoors when allergen levels are high
  • Close windows
  • Maintain proper hygiene
  • Use air conditioning when possible
  • Use and maintain high-efficiency air filters
  • Monitor allergen counts in your community and take allergy medications when the readings are high, even before symptoms start
Medically Reviewed on 5/6/2022
Image Source: iStock Image

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. COVID-19 (Coronavirus).

National Institutes of Health. Is It Flu, COVID-19, Allergies, or a Cold?

University of Utah Health. Is it COVID-19? Or is it just my allergies?

Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. Symptom Check: Covid-19 or Seasonal Allergies?

AAAAI. Is it an Allergy or COVID-19?