Mold and pollen counts are high, leading to a lot of sneezing and coughing and itchy eyes. But how can you tell if those symptoms are related to allergies or something more serious like coronavirus?
Fond du Lac County Public Health Officer Kim Mueller said people who thought they had seasonal allergies went to a gathering. They ended up testing positive for COVID-19 and spreading it to others.
“In interviewing our cases, we are currently identifying that people are saying they went to a party because they thought they had seasonal allergies, later to find out they get a COVID test and it comes back positive,” says Mueller.
What are the differences and similarities between allergies and COVID-19?
If you are feeling sneezy, feverish, short of breath, exhausted, or achy, you may be wondering if your signs and symptoms are due to seasonal allergies or COVID-19. The table below covers many of the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and allergies. However, there are other features that help to identify the two conditions. The following will help to further identify the similarities and differences between these conditions.
There are some differences between a response to allergies and an illness from coronavirus.
Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai says a runny nose is not a common COVID-19 symptom. However, headaches and sore throats are symptoms of the virus.
If you take allergy medication but the symptoms are not going away, it could be a sign that you have COVID-19.
“If your symptoms, and they’re pretty typical allergy symptoms, are controlled by medications that you would normally take–and that may be a nasal spray, a tablet, a pill, an allergy shot–if those symptoms are not being controlled, you have to look at other things like COVID-19 and get tested,” says Dr. Rai.
Anyone with at least one symptom of COVID-19 (headache, fever, sore throat, muscle aches, chills, cough, new loss of taste or smell) can get a free test.
Not sure how to get a coronavirus test? CLICK HERE to find a testing location near you.
COVID-19 is a viral (SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus) respiratory disease identified in December 2019. In contrast, allergies have multiple triggers, are not contagious, and have been identified in humans for many generations. COVID-19 has an incubation period of about 2-14 days, while allergy symptoms don’t have an incubation period. Person-to-person transmission spreads the viral disease. Allergies are unique to each individual and do not spread to other people.
COVID-19 progresses over a few days with increasing severity of signs and symptoms in people who have symptoms, while people with allergies usually have signs and symptoms in minutes to hours after exposure to a trigger substance. Both COVID-19 and allergies, when severe, may need emergency respiratory support and other supportive care. This need can arise quickly in some people. One difference between COVID-19 and severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis, for example) is that severe COVID-19-infected patients usually have had bouts of high fever and chills before respiratory failure. Also, there are rapid tests (5-15 minutes) that can identify those people infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus. Tests for allergies to determine the triggers may take a number of tests over time.
An allergy develops due to hypersensitivity of the body’s immune system response to a usually harmless substance in the environment. Such substances (known as allergens) may be
– chemicals like perfumes,
– animal dander, and
– many others.
For the patient, one or more substances exposed to mucus membranes or skin may trigger an allergic reaction (for example, an asthma attack, skin rash, and symptoms listed in the table above). In contrast, COVID-19 is a disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. Allergies are not contagious, but COVID-19 is very contagious. Rarely does an allergy cause life-threatening problems (except for an acute severe asthma attack), while about 20% of COVID-19 infections can require hospital care. Pneumonia usually does not occur with allergies but people with rather severe SARS-CoV-2 infections often develop pneumonia. Some allergies occur seasonally (pollen production, “allergy season”). Seasonality is not yet evident with COVID-19 due to a lack of data.
Treatments for signs and symptoms that may accompany both allergies and COVID-19 (conjunctivitis, sinusitis, congestion, and others) are mainly over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Your doctor may treat other problems that may occur at the same time (like ear congestion/infection, bronchitis, and sinus infection) with antibiotics.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with prescribed allergy medication follow their doctor’s recommendations and continue immunotherapy. Other treatments may include immunotherapies such as allergy injections and/or removal of nasal polyps. None of these treatments treat COVID-19.
Treatment of COVID-19 currently (Apr. 30, 2020) is supportive care with severe infections requiring oxygen delivery and/or respiratory support with a ventilator. COVID-19 severe infections are due usually to viral pneumonia, which is not responsive to epinephrine. Although there is no definitive treatment, vaccines, antiviral drugs, convalescent serum (immunoglobulin), and immune enhancement methods are under active investigation as potential treatments. In late April, an antiviral drug, remdesivir, showed a significant reduction in hospitalization days for COVID-19 infections. It is the first drug to show some ability to help patients.