Allergies vs. COVID-19: What Are the Differences?

If you have developed a runny nose, sore throat, or watery eyes, you may wonder if you are experiencing allergy symptoms or have COVID-19. While many allergy and COVID-19 symptoms overlap, there are some ways to tell them apart.

Learn more from this overview about the differences between allergies and COVID-19 symptoms and when to seek testing or medical care.

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Common Symptoms

When trying to discern whether your symptoms may be due to allergies or COVID-19, it helps to know which common symptoms apply to each situation.

Allergies

Allergies result from your immune system mistakenly identifying an allergen as a dangerous foreign substance. As a result, when you come in contact with an allergen, your body mounts an immune defense to protect you, resulting in unpleasant allergy symptoms.

Seasonal allergies (often referred to as hay fever or allergic rhinitis) and indoor allergies commonly cause symptoms such as:

  • Itchy eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy nose
  • Congestion
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Post-nasal drip (drainage from the nose down the back of the throat)
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Snoring
  • Shortness of breath (usually associated with allergic asthma)

COVID-19

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that can range from mild to severe and fatal. The illness presents with a wide range of symptoms. That's why it can sometimes be difficult to tell it apart from allergies or other illnesses.

While most of the different COVID-19 variants show similar symptoms, they can vary by severity and spread. Symptoms typically appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

Some commonly recognized COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Muscle or joint pain/body aches
  • Different types of skin rash
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills or dizziness

Those fully vaccinated are least likely to experience severe symptoms, while those who are unvaccinated are most at risk of severe illness and death. In addition, some people experience "long covid," chronic symtoms that last for weeks or months.

Overlapping Symptoms

Overlapping allergy and COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat

However, even with overlapping symptoms, there are some ways to distinguish allergies from COVID-19.

For example, with allergies, nasal discharge tends to be clear, and fatigue is mild. On the other hand, viral infections tend to produce thicker nasal secretions and fatigue with COVID-19 may be intense.

In addition, allergy coughs often result from irritation and discharge. As such, they are "wet" and productive. With COVID-19, the cough is dry.

Recap

Some symptoms of allergies and COVID-19 overlap. For example, both may produce a cough, runny nose, and fatigue. However, even among similar symptoms, there are ways to tell them apart. For example, with allergies, a cough tends to be wet, while with COVID-19 it is dry. In addition, fatigue is more pronounced with COVID-19 than it is with allergies.

Allergies vs. COVID-19: A Checklist

While COVID-19 and allergies share many common symptoms, some symptoms appear with one condition and not with the other.

Symptoms: COVID-19 vs. Allergies
Symptom   COVID-19  Allergies
Itchy eyes No Yes
Watery eyes No Yes
Sneezing No Yes
Itchy nose  No Yes
Dark circles under eyes No Yes
Post-nasal drip No Yes
Fever Yes No
Loss of taste or smell Yes No
Muscle or joint pain Yes No
Different types of skin rash Yes No
Nausea or vomiting Yes No
Diarrhea Yes No
Chills or dizziness Yes No
Nasal congestion Yes Yes
Runny nose Yes Yes 
Fatigue Yes  Yes 
Headache Yes  Yes 
Sore throat Yes  Yes 
Coughing Yes  Yes 
Shortness of breath Yes Sometimes
Red eyes Yes Yes
This is a general list of common symptoms. They can vary by person.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 but not allergies include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Loss of taste/smell
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Common symptoms of allergies but not COVID-19 include:

  • Itchy/watery eyes
  • Sneezing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided a coronavirus self-checker tool to help you decide when to seek testing or medical care. While not a substitute for a consultation with a healthcare provider, it can be a useful starting point.

Recap

Some symptoms, including fever, chills, body aches, loss of taste and smell, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, are unique to COVID-19 and are not signs of allergies. Likewise, some allergy symptoms, like sneezing and itchy, watery eyes, are not COVID-19 symptoms.

Managing Allergies

While you can't always prevent allergies, there are some things you can do to manage allergy symptoms and limit your exposure to allergens. The following strategies can help:

  • Keep the windows closed and stay indoors when pollen counts are high.
  • Wash hands or shower and change clothing after spending time outside.
  • Treat symptoms with decongestants, antihistamines, and nasal spray steroids.
  • Receive allergy shots (immunotherapy).
  • Wear a pollen mask or dust mask when mowing the lawn.
  • Clean the inside of the nose with a neti pot.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier.
  • Put petroleum jelly in the nose if it becomes irritated.

The most effective way to manage allergies is to learn what you are allergic to and reduce or avoid exposure to it.

Preventing COVID-19

Since COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets, you are most likely to become infected by being around someone who has it. So, to prevent catching or spreading COVID-19, take the following measures:

  • Get vaccinated and receive a booster shot.
  • Wear a mask when indoors in public areas and when spending time with unvaccinated people.
  • Stay at least six feet away from people who do not live in your household.
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated areas.
  • Wash hands frequently or use hand sanitizer if you can't wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Monitor your health for COVID-19 symptoms, and be aware of possible exposure to COVID-19.

There is a slight chance you could catch COVID-19 from touching contaminated objects. Therefore, clean high-use surfaces, such as doorknobs, counters, and switches regularly, especially after you have visitors in your home.

In addition, if someone in your household has COVID-19, follow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s guide for disinfecting.

Get Tested

If you have COVID-19 symptoms or were exposed to COVID-19, you should receive a COVID-19 test. Early detection can help prevent you from spreading the virus. The CDC recommends testing in the following situations:

  • If you have symptoms
  • If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19
  • For routine screening for schools or workplaces
  • Before and after traveling

Rapid tests are available over-the-counter. These tests look for the virus's proteins in your nose and provide results in 15-30 minutes. On the other hand, polymer chain reaction (PCR) tests look for the virus's genetic material in your nose. They are available at pharmacies and health clinics. These results usually take 24 hours or more.

Recap

Preventing COVID-19 involves layered mitigation strategies like masking, vaccination, good hygiene, and avoiding places with poor air circulation. In addition, screening and testing can help identify COVID-19 cases early.

When to Seek Emergency Care

If you test positive for COVID-19, it is essential to isolate at home until you are well to avoid spreading the illness. Get adequate rest, fluids, and watch your symptoms closely during that time.

If you or someone else is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

This list is not exhaustive. If you are concerned, seek medical care right away.

Summary

Allergies and COVID-19 share some overlapping symptoms. However, even among shared symptoms, there are some distinctions. For example, both may present with a cough and fatigue. However, an allergy cough is wet, while a COVID-19 cough is dry; and fatigue with allergies tends to be milder than fatigue associated with COVID-19.

In addition, some symptoms of each are not present in the other. For instance, common allergy symptoms not associated with COVID-19 include itching, sneezing, and watery eyes. Conversely, common COVID-19 symptoms not seen with allergies include fever, body aches, and loss of taste or smell.

A Word From Verywell

If you're not sure whether your symptoms could be the result of allergies or COVID-19, it's best to play it safe and take a test. Follow the CDC guidelines for testing and care and watch your symptoms closely if you test positive. If you experience any warning signs, including difficulty breathing, confusion, chest pain, or trouble staying awake, seek emergency medical care right away.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do allergy symptoms vs. COVID-19 symptoms last?

    COVID-19 symptoms usually resolve within two weeks after onset, but this can vary by person. For some people, symptoms can last weeks or months after the acute infection has resolved. Allergy symptoms usually last longer and are often seasonal.

  • Will both allergy and COVID-19 symptoms respond to allergy medicine?

    For many people, allergy symptoms respond well to allergy medicine. However, allergy medicine is not a treatment for COVID-19, and viral symptoms do not generally respond to allergy medication.

  • Will I still be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine if I have allergies?

    Unless you are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine, the CDC recommends getting the COVID-19 vaccine even if you have other allergies, such as seasonal allergies.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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