Seasonal Allergies vs. COVID-19: What to Know + How to Tell the Difference

Runny nose, cough, headache, fatigue, etc.? Is it COVID or just allergies? Here’s what you need to know.

Seasonal Allergies vs. COVID-19: What to Know + How to Tell the Difference
Reviewed by Dr. David Zlotnick, Chief Medical Officer at Antidote Health

It's that time of year again – the trees are blooming, and the pollen is flying. For many, it's time to break out the allergy medication. But with all that's going on in the world, it's natural to wonder: could my allergies be COVID-19? Here's what you need to know about the difference between seasonal allergies and one of the several COVID variants, and how to tell them apart.

What are Seasonal Allergies?

An overreaction of the immune system to certain airborne particles like pollen causes seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever. When these particles come into contact with the mucous membranes in your nose, eyes, and throat, they trigger the release of histamine and other chemicals that cause symptoms like runny nose, congestion, watery eyes, sneezing, and itching.

What are the Different Seasonal Allergens?

There are a few different airborne particles that trigger seasonal allergies:


Trees – early spring

Grasses – late spring/early summer

Weeds – late summer/fall 

Weeds will continue to fester for the next several months, colliding with flu season and another uptick of COVID-19 cases. This can make it hard to tell the difference between seasonal allergies, a cold, and COVID-19, so let's explore the key differences.

What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies?

Seasonal allergies have a wide range of symptoms, making them hard to distinguish from other illnesses like the common cold, the flu, and COVID-19. However, there are a few key differences:

The most common symptoms of seasonal allergies are:

  • Sneezing – Allergens are irritants that cause the nose to produce excess mucus, which is then expelled through sneezing. You can reduce the amount of histamine your body has by using an antihistamine and experiencing less sneezing. 
  • Runny nose – Mucus production is the body's way of flushing out irritants. An allergy attack can cause up to 30 times the amount of mucus production as a typical day.
  • Sore throat – The mucus produced during an allergy attack can drain down the back of your throat, causing a sore throat. Also, coughing can irritate the throat.
  • Itchy, watery eyes – This is because of histamine, a chemical that the body releases in reaction to an allergy. Avoid rubbing your eyes, as this will only worsen the symptoms.
  • Congestion – The swelling of the blood vessels in the nose causes congestion and makes breathing difficult.
  • Coughing – Coughing is the body's clearing of irritants from the throat and lungs. With allergies, it's usually a dry cough.
  • Fatigue – Seasonal allergies can drain you, both physically and emotionally. Also, certain antihistamines can cause drowsiness.
  • Nausea – Mucus in the stomach can cause nausea and vomiting. The sickness can also cause a loss of appetite. Mucus gets into the stomach when you swallow it or when you have a postnasal drip. 

These symptoms can last for weeks or even months. Start with seeing a primary care physician by booking an online appointment with Antidote Health. Consider speaking with an allergist who can test you for specific allergies and develop a treatment plan for severe symptoms.

How are Seasonal Allergies Diagnosed?

Occasionally a physical exam and a review of your symptoms are needed to diagnose seasonal allergies. 

What is the Treatment for Seasonal Allergies?

There is no cure for seasonal allergies, but there are treatments that can help to control the symptoms. These include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Nasal sprays
  • Decongestants
  • Immunotherapy
  • Allergy shots

Many individuals need a combination of these treatments to get their allergies under control.

How can I Prevent Seasonal Allergies?

There are a few things you can do to prevent seasonal allergies:

  • Limit time outdoors when pollen counts are high
  • Shower and change clothes after being outdoors
  • Keep windows and doors closed
  • Use an air purifier
  • Vacuum regularly

The best times to go outside with the pollen count are early in the morning or late at night. Because the last few allergy seasons have coincided with high COVID levels, many patients learned for the first time how well a mask could also help with seasonal allergies. Surveys show these individuals plan to continue wearing an N-95 mask to filter out allergens when they go outside.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified in 2019. It's similar to other coronaviruses that cause respiratory illnesses like the common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). A vaccination for COVID-19 is available and can reduce the severity of symptoms.

What are the Symptoms of COVID-19?

There are several variants of COVID-19, each with its own symptoms. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • Fever – A fever is often the first symptom of COVID-19. Chills and sweats may accompany it.
  • Cough – A dry cough is the most common symptom of COVID-19. This may progress to a wet, productive cough.
  • Shortness of breath – Shortness of breath is a typical symptom of COVID-19. It happens when the lungs are inflamed and filled with fluid.
  • Sore throat – A sore throat occurs when the mucus membranes in the throat become inflamed. It can be a symptom of COVID-19 but is more common in children.
  • Fatigue – Fatigue is the most common symptom of COVID-19. It can be debilitating,  making it difficult to carry out everyday activities. Many people report fatigue lasting a few weeks or more.
  • Muscle pain – Individuals with COVID-19 often experience muscle pain, especially in the early stages of the illness. This can range from a mild ache to severe pain. 
  • Headache – Headaches are a common symptom of COVID-19, especially in the early stages of the disease.
  • Loss of taste or smell – Loss of taste or smell is a universal symptom of COVID-19. It can happen suddenly and may last for weeks.
  • Congestion or runny nose – This is not as common in COVID-19 as in allergies or the common cold but can occur.
  • Nausea or vomiting – Nausea and vomiting are more common in children than adults with COVID-19.

However, it's important to note that not everyone with COVID-19 will experience these symptoms. Some people with COVID-19 may not have any symptoms at all. Also, different variants can cause symptoms not listed.

How to Tell the Difference Between Seasonal Allergies and COVID-19

While the symptoms of seasonal allergies and COVID-19 can be similar, there are a few key differences that can help you tell them apart.

COVID-19 is more likely to cause:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Seasonal allergies are more likely to cause:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue

Also, you shouldn't have a fever with allergies.

With so much overlap between the symptoms of seasonal allergies, a cold, the flu, and COVID-19, it isn't easy to self-diagnose. If you're experiencing any combination of these symptoms, you must contact a medical professional to get a proper diagnosis. And, if you have any concerns that your symptoms may be COVID, it's always better to avoid caution and get tested.

How to Test for COVID-19?

The easiest and quickest way is to use a home test kit. They work by swabbing your nose or throat to collect a sample that you test with a simple kit with instructions. You can order these online or pick them up at your local pharmacy.

Testing is also available through your doctor or a drive-thru testing center. These locations often have a 24-48-hour turnaround for results.

Contact your doctor or a local testing center if you have questions about your symptoms or how to get tested.

What Happens if you Test Positive?

If you test positive for COVID-19, you need to self-isolate for five days. This means staying home and away from other people. You should also:

  • Stay in a separate room from other people in your house
  • Wear a face mask when you're around other people
  • Avoid sharing personal items
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces in your room
  • Wash your hands often

If you have severe symptoms, you may need to be hospitalized. This is more likely if you're over 65 or have a chronic health condition.

You can get COVID if You're Vaccinated

Even if you're vaccinated, you can still get COVID-19. However, the vaccine will protect you from severe symptoms and hospitalization. So, if you get COVID after being vaccinated, it's likely that your symptoms will be milder. Also, you're still at risk of spreading the virus to others, so it's essential to wear a mask and follow other safety precautions.

Are There any Treatments for COVID-19?

There is no specific treatment for COVID-19. However, some treatments can help relieve the symptoms. These include:

  • Rest
  • Fluids
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Cough medicine
  • Decongestants
  • Nasal sprays
  • Oxygen therapy (for severe cases)

Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication if you're at high risk for complications from COVID-19. These medications can help prevent the virus from multiplying in your body and may shorten the duration of the illness.

Contact Antidote Health today and see how our clinicians can help you feel better. Above all, stay safe and healthy this season!

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