This year, your seasonal allergies came with a sore throat and fever. But is that normal?

Or maybe for the first time in your life, the start of a new season has brought you a stuffy, runny nose and tiredness. Is it COVID-19 or something else? Should you seek treatment?

Seasonal allergies and COVID-19 share some common symptoms. So, how can you tell them apart?

Below, we dig into the similarities and differences between the two conditions, as well as share tips on how to get the care you need.

Allergy symptoms vs. COVID-19 symptoms: Similarities

Both seasonal allergies and COVID-19 affect the respiratory system. That’s why many symptoms of COVID-19 can feel a lot like seasonal allergy symptoms. Here are some of the symptoms that they share:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of taste or smell

How to tell the difference between allergy and COVID-19 symptoms

While both COVID-19 and seasonal allergies affect the respiratory system, they are different in how they affect the body.

Allergies are an immune response following an exposure to certain allergens such as mold or tree pollen. COVID-19 is a virus that your body is trying to fight off – this is hard work. And while COVID-19 symptoms may not be severe on their own, they may be more severe when compared to typical allergy symptoms.

Here are the biggest differences between allergies and COVID-19.

Seasonal allergies follow a schedule

If you have seasonal allergies, you can expect symptoms to appear around the same time each year and last for several weeks. For example, if you’re allergic to tree pollen, you can expect a flare-up in the late winter or early spring that will last through early summer.

COVID-19 symptom onset can occur anytime, and symptoms can change as time goes on.

Allergies come with a significant itch factor

Itchy eyes, ears, nose and throat scream allergies. That’s because the allergens can irritate the lining of your eyes, ears and airways. Itching is not a symptom of COVID-19.

Allergies never cause fevers

If you have a fever, it’s not the result of allergies.

Fevers happen when your body is trying to kill a virus or bacteria that has caused an infection – invaders like the common cold, seasonal flu or COVID-19. It’s possible for you to have a fever while you have allergy symptoms. However, the fever would be due to a separate infection.

Generally, a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more can be a sign of the flu or COVID-19. If your fever is less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s more likely you have a cold.

While some COVID-19 symptoms overlap with allergies and other illnesses, the severity of certain symptoms can help you tell whether it might be COVID-19:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing – Unless you also suffer from asthma, breathing problems are more characteristic of COVID-19.
  • New or sudden loss of taste or smell – Anytime you have a stuffy nose, your taste and smell senses can be dulled. But new or sudden loss of taste or smell, with or without congestion, can be a sign of COVID-19.
  • Repeated shaking with chills – This symptom is common with COVID-19 but never happens with allergies.
  • Symptom combination – The possibility of COVID-19 increases if you have at least two of its related symptoms.

COVID-19 symptoms vs. allergy symptoms

We’ve gone through the symptom similarities and differences between allergies and COVID-19. But here’s how they compare side by side.

Symptoms COVID-19 Allergies
Fever and chills Common Never
Sneezing Rare Common
Runny or stuffy nose Common Common
Itchy, red, watery or dry eyes Never Common
Itchy ears Never Common
Headache Common Common
Cough Dry (typically), persistent and more severe than with allergies Dry (typically)
Puffiness around the eyes Never Typical
Muscle pain or body aches Common Rare
Sore throat Common Rare
Tiredness Common Common
Sudden loss of taste or smell Common Sometimes (alongside stuffy nose and congestion)
Nausea or vomiting Sometimes (more common in children) Never
Diarrhea Sometimes (more common in children) Never

If you have symptoms related to both allergies and COVID-19, you could have either or both. Knowing for sure whether you have COVID-19 can help you get the right treatment.

Concerned it could be COVID-19? Here’s what you should do

If you think you have COVID-19, there are a couple steps you should take to make sure you get the right care and keep others safe.

  • Get tested for COVID-19 – There are different types of COVID-19 tests, PCR tests, which are typically used at doctors' clinics, are the most accurate. At-home COVID-19 tests (also called antigen tests) are more likely to provide a false negative. So if you’re using an at-home test, the Food and Drug Administration recommends testing at least twice over three days with at least 48 hours between tests. If you have two negative results from antigen tests, you’re considered negative for COVID-19.
  • Stay home – COVID-19 is very contagious. So if you have COVID-19 (or it’s possible that you do), stay home and try to separate yourself from other members of your household to help prevent the disease from spreading. You should be able to treat mild symptoms of COVID-19 at home. But if you’re at increased risk of getting severe COVID-19, talk to your doctor about medications and treatments that could help.
  • Call our nurse line if you have questions – We have a team of nurses standing by 24/7 to answer any questions you might have, and to help you decide what type of care you may need. HealthPartners patients can call 800-551-0859. Park Nicollet patients can call their clinic directly, or 952-993-4665 if it’s after hours.
  • Get care and treatment from home if needed – Like we mentioned earlier, mild COVID-19 symptoms can often be treated at home. But if your symptoms seem more severe or you’re at higher risk for severe COVID-19, get care from home. Our primary care doctors and clinicians offer video visits and our online clinic, Virtuwell, can offer treatment 24/7.

Think that it’s probably allergies? Here’s what you can do

So, you have coughing, sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, itchy, watery eyes – but no fever and you can still taste your delicious blueberry muffin. You’re pretty sure it’s allergies. What’s your next move?

Here’s how you can start getting some relief from seasonal allergy symptoms.

  • Start with home remedies – One of the most effective home remedies for allergies is a sinus rinse. You can use a neti pot or another product to help flush out your nasal passages and get relief. Just make sure you follow the instructions and use distilled water for the saltwater solution.
  • Use over-the-counter medicines for symptom management and relief – Taking an oral antihistamine can go a long way in reducing your symptoms. In addition, nasal steroid sprays like Flonase or Nasacort can help reduce nose and sinus inflammation.
  • Take steps to reduce your exposure to allergens – Keep your windows closed and air conditioner on. Wash your hair and clothes after you’ve been outside. Use to check pollen counts in your area.
  • Get an official allergy diagnosis – If you’ve never spoken to a doctor about allergies before, make an appointment with a primary care doctor. They can give you an official diagnosis and treatment plan. And if needed, they can refer you to an allergy specialist or ear, nose and throat specialist. If you know you have allergies and your symptoms seem to be getting worse, you can make an appointment directly with an allergy specialist.

And don’t forget to get your COVID-19 vaccination

The COVID-19 vaccine provides the best possible protection against the coronavirus, especially severe illness. It’s available for everyone 6 months old and older.