Is it allergies or something else?
With spring in full bloom and pollen everywhere we look, you may have questions if your symptoms are allergy related or caused by something else. Pollen counts are high through this month and the first week of June, when grass pollen peaks. Allergies, colds and even COVID-19 produce some overlap in symptoms, which can be problematic for allergy sufferers. Here are some ways to tell the difference.
The main symptoms of seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis are itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing. Most of us know the symptoms of COVID-19 by now: fever, cough, body aches, sore throat, shortness of breath, loss of smell and/or taste.
The first thing to keep in mind is timeline and past history. Often people with allergies have a history of seasonal allergies occurring around the same time every year. Allergy symptoms are usually more long lasting than viral symptoms. Compared to COVID-19, seasonal allergies have a much longer time course. Allergy symptoms often respond to over the counter allergy medications, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Allegra (fexofenadine), Claritin (loratadine), Xyzal (levocetirizine), and Zyrtec (cetirizine). Allergies also make you itch. Think itchy eyes, itchy nose and throat, and itchy skin. Itchiness is usually not a symptom of a viral illness. People with allergies do not develop a fever. With a cold, if there is any fever at all, it is usually low grade (99-100.4 degrees F). With COVID-19, higher fevers are much more likely, although not a guarantee. Allergies also won’t cause body aches, chills or extreme fatigue, whereas COVID-19 can. Patients with allergies may also have asthma, which can cause coughing and wheezing. COVID-19 typically does not cause wheezing, but a dry cough and shortness of breath. A total loss of smell and/or taste however, is more suspect for COVID-19 over allergies or cold.
While more and more people are fully vaccinated now, it’s still important to keep in mind, as with any vaccine, there will be what is called “breakthrough” infections. It may be possible that people still test positive for COVID-19 despite vaccination, but have a milder case. Sometimes there is so much symptom overlap that it can be hard to tell exactly what is causing the symptoms, especially in younger children. When in doubt, contact your physician or child’s physician to see if COVID-19 testing is recommended in your particular situation.
Maria H. Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a registered nurse with 14 years critical care experience and is the proud mom of three young children.