Allergies or COVID-19? Here are some ways to tell the difference

Fever, body aches are signs of COVID, while eye symptoms tend to be allergies.

With ragweed allergy season here through October and schools starting or preparing to open this year, some are wondering how to know where symptoms indicate COVID-19 or a simple allergic reaction.

“All of the symptoms of allergies could be associated with COVID,” said Dr. Joseph Allen, regional medical director with Premier Health.

While symptoms of loss of taste and smell were associated with COVID-19 early in the pandemic, doctors are seeing less of those symptoms with the virus variants. One of the tell-tale signs that an illness is not regular allergies, though, is a fever.

If you have a fever, “it is not allergies,” Allen said.

If you’re worried that you may have COVID instead of your usual allergies, Allen suggested that you should be cautious. He recommended a COVID test between the third and fifth day of having symptoms because testing too early could produce a false negative on a COVID test.

He also recommended being cautious if there is a possibility of transmitting the virus to someone who is immunocompromised.

Pollen from ragweed, which is a weed growing throughout the U.S. and particularly in Eastern and Midwestern states, impacts about 15% of Americans in the late summer, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. It can also be a trigger for people who have asthma. Ragweed is common in rural areas, and the pollen counts are highest in the morning.

For those suffering from allergies or asthma from the increased humidity and pollen, Allen recommended taking allergy medications consistently and staying somewhere cool.

“Avoidance is the best treatment option,” Allen said when it comes to protecting yourself against allergies. “If you know you’re allergic to something, stay away from it.”

The Dayton region is challenging for children who are allergy and asthma sufferers because it sits in a valley. Dr. David Morris, a pediatric allergist and division chief of allergy at Dayton Children’s Hospital, saidthis area is high in allergens. With the humidity in the region, it also creates an environment for mold allergens to thrive.

“We’ll usually see an increase in hospitalizations going into September,” Morris said about children suffering from mold allergies.

Dayton Children’s is also anticipating an increase in visits with the start of school. Allergies are expected to trigger asthma attacks, and common colds are expected to spread in school.

For children who are allergy sufferers, Morris recommends their parents get an early start on preparing to get their medication available at school. Even with over-the-counter medication, schools will want a medical professional to approve them to be used while children are at school.

“Forms trickle in at first,” Morris said, adding he and his colleagues have now seen a “very big flood” of parents submitting those medication consent forms. He said he signs about a dozen a day, advising parents it does take a few days for physicians to get those forms returned to parents and schools.

Children’s medications are also important to helping them manage their symptoms if they have allergies and asthma.

“Make sure you’re taking your daily control medications,” Morris said.

Morris recommended minimizing their exposure to pollen to help reduce eye symptoms associated with allergies, like redness, itching and watery eyes. One way to do that is having children wipe their face and wash their hands to reduce the amount of time pollen spends on their face and wear sunglasses to keep pollen from getting into their eyes.

Morris also recommended minimizing outdoor activities in the morning and evening if possible.

“The pollen counts can go up in the evenings and the mornings,” Morris said.

This isn’t always possible, though, when the weather hits 90-degree heat as heat can also be dangerous for asthma and allergy sufferers.

The eye symptoms are another indicator that an illness might be allergies and not COVID. For allergy sufferers who are experiencing mild eye and nasal symptoms, Morris said it’s safe to go to school, but when those symptoms start to get worse, he suggested taking an at-home COVID test. With additional symptoms of fever, body aches, and shortness of breath, he recommended the child getting evaluated by a physician.

“You can also always have a quick visit with their physician,” Morris said.

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