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Published on March 24, 2020

Is it an allergy or COVID-19?

COVID Allergy

Everyone’s on high alert about their health, so a simple cough or sneeze can trigger fears. As the spring allergy season descends on us (perhaps a little earlier than usual), make sure you know what’s cause for concern and what isn’t.

“People are justifiably nervous right now, so it’s important to act based on information,” said Peter Crosson, MD, a specialist in internal medicine who practices at Strawberry Hill Primary Care in Hyannis.

“It’s easy to tell the difference between allergies and a COVID-19 infection. The majority of people who are symptomatic from COVID have fevers. It's the most common symptom, and allergies do not cause fever,” he said.

Typical allergy symptoms, according to Dr. Crosson, are:

  • Itchy eyes
  • Itchy ears
  • A sense of sinus fullness
  • Postnasal drip.

“People may notice that their allergy symptoms wax and wane a little bit from day to day,” he said. Their symptoms may be more noticeable on days that are drier or warmer, and less noticeable on rainy days.

“That’s not true of the COVID symptoms, which tend to be more progressive,” he said. “Once you start getting sick, you get sicker.”

Typical coronavirus symptoms include a high incidence of respiratory symptoms, he added.

“People often will feel chest discomfort and shortness of breath, along with a sore throat and cough. They don't wax and wane. They just get worse.”

People who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus can be asymptomatic for up to a week or more, Dr. Crosson emphasized.

If you typically have allergies during the spring months, you might want to purchase a small supply of your preferred allergy medication now, so you’ll have it on hand when you need it. But there’s no need to over-buy, Dr. Crosson said.

“We don’t want people to hoard medications, but it’s a good policy to plan ahead for what looks like up to six weeks of social distancing and sheltering in place,” he said. “Most allergy medicines are sold in monthly supplies anyway, so it’s usually not too hard to get enough to cover you during this time period.”

If your allergy causes you to start sneezing, be sure to practice good hygiene by sneezing into a tissue or into your elbow.

“Sneezing isn’t a major symptom with COVID and sneezing that’s related to an allergy is not contagious,” he said. “But the problem is, you could have COVID as well as allergies, so droplet precautions are super important.

“Everybody should be cautious right now. Not just allergy sufferers, but anybody who coughs or sneezes should protect everybody around them and wash their hands. Everybody needs to behave as if they’re infected. If everybody did that, I think we could get this under control relatively quickly.”