covid symptoms

COVID vs. Allergies: How Can You Tell the Difference in Symptoms?

How to know if you have COVID or seasonal allergies amid high levels of tree pollen across the Chicago area

NBC Universal, Inc.

With high levels of tree pollen now in the air and highly-contagious COVID variants spreading this spring, it can be increasingly difficult to identify the reason behind your runny nose or fatigue. 

"Now with COVID and all the different strains becoming a little bit milder, people are getting confused with the symptoms," said Dr. Ruchi Gupta, professor of pediatrics and medicine for Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine.

Before self-diagnosing, health officials have said the best way to identify the source of your symptoms is through testing, especially given some overlap between the coronavirus and seasonal allergies.

"When in doubt, I would say test up before you actually go and expose other people," Dr. Sai Nimmagadda , an allergist at Lurie Children’s Hospital, told NBC 5 Tuesday.

That's especially important for those who will be around immunocompromised or at-risk individuals.

But while the allergy season can last for several months, and with COVID transmission continuing, what should you do if your symptoms continue?

"If you test negative the first time, you should repeat it - especially if your symptoms are continuing or they're not responding to your classic allergy treatment medication," Nimmagadda said.

Is there a way to tell a difference between the two?

Experts say it depends on your symptoms.

For those experiencing a fever, chances are it may not be allergies.

"For COVID specifically, you know, you can get fevers, which you don't usually get with environmental allergies," Gupta said.

But in many cases, the symptoms for COVID and allergies can overlap.

Here’s a list of COVID and allergy symptoms as outlined by the CDC:

COVID Symptoms 

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell (although doctors have noted that the latest COVID variants typically will not cause loss of taste or smell)
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Dr. Katherine Poehling, an infectious disease specialist and member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, told NBC News in January that a cough, congestion, runny nose and fatigue appear to be prominent symptoms with the omicron variant.

Even those who receive the coronavirus vaccine can also still contract the virus and may experience symptoms. Most vaccinated people, though, either have no symptoms or exhibit very mild symptoms, according to health officials, and the virus rarely results in hospitalization or death for those individuals.

The CDC advises seeking medical attention if a person is experiencing trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion and inability to wake or stay awake, as well as pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds.

Allergy Symptoms 

  • Symptoms from allergic rhinitis include:
    • sneezing
    • runny nose
    • congestion
  • Symptoms from allergic conjunctivitis include:
    • red, watery, or itchy eyes

Loyola Medicine's Allergy Count is updated each weekday morning during allergy season by allergist Dr. Rachna Shah, according to the Twitter account.

According to Loyola Medicine, the levels as of Tuesday were reported to be:

Trees - moderate - most prevalent - Birch

Grass - absent

Molds - low

Weeds - absent

Trees are in their peak season from March to May, while grass will be in its peak season from May to June, Loyola Medicine noted. Mold has its peak season in both spring and fall - whenever conditions are "damp."

Loyola Medicine ranks the counts from low to high risk, then "alert." When an allergen is marked as "alert," those sensitive are advised to stay indoors.

Contact Us