Allergy Cough vs. COVID Cough: What Are the Differences?

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Both allergies and COVID-19 can cause coughing, and it can be difficult to determine which condition you may be suffering from. A COVID-19 test is necessary to definitively identify the culprit of your cough. This article discusses the potential similarities and differences between a cough caused by allergies and a cough caused by COVID-19, including triggers and length of symptoms.

a sick woman coughing at home

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Symptoms

Allergy Cough

An allergy cough is a persistent cough that typically lasts longer than three weeks. You may notice it develop in the presence of certain triggers, such as pollen, dust, mold, or pet dander.

Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is an allergy triggered by environmental factors like pollen, plants, dust, and pets. If your cough is due to allergies, you may notice the cough only at certain times of the year. A cough related to allergies is usually dry and does not produce a lot of mucus.

If your cough is caused by allergies, you may have the following symptoms in addition to your cough:

  • Itchy eyes, ears, mouth, or nose
  • Hives or a skin rash
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Dark circles around the eyes

Asthma and Allergies

Asthma is a condition that is commonly associated with allergies, and if you have asthma in addition to allergies, your coughing may be accompanied by breathing problems, including wheezing.

COVID-19 Cough

Like an allergy cough, the cough associated with COVID-19 is usually dry. However, the symptoms that may accompany your cough in the case of a COVID-19 infection are different.

If you have COVID-19, you may have some of the following symptoms in addition to your cough:

  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing or respiratory issues
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Long COVID is a condition in which a COVID-19 infection causes chronic symptoms. These symptoms may include cough, chronic fatigue, cognitive issues, shortness of breath, and pain.

Similarities and Differences in Symptoms

  • Loss of taste and loss of smell are common in COVID-19 infections, while very rare for seasonal allergies.
  • Stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea can come with COVID-19 but are unlikely to occur with seasonal allergies.
  • Seasonal allergies do not cause fever.
  • Hives may occur with allergies, but are atypical for a COVID-19 infection.
  • Itchy eyes, nose, and ears are common with seasonal allergies but unlikely with a COVID-19 infection.

Causes

Allergies

Allergies are caused by an overreaction of your immune system in response to certain "triggers," such as pollen, mold, dust, or dander. This causes your body to release a substance called histamine, which is responsible for many of the symptoms associated with allergies.

COVID-19

COVID-19 is caused by an infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is spread via respiratory droplets. These droplets are typically expelled by an infected person through coughing or sneezing. Anyone who inhales these droplets is susceptible to COVID-19.

COVID-19 is able to evade the immune system by suppressing its anti-viral response.

Diagnosis

Allergies

Allergies are usually diagnosed by a physician who specializes in immunology, called an immunologist, or a physician who specializes in diagnosing allergies, called an allergist.

Either healthcare professional will review your medical history and your symptoms and perform a physical examination.

If they suspect allergies, they may order one or more tests, such as a skin prick test, an intradermal test, or blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.

COVID-19

There are various tests that can detect COVID-19. Some are designed to detect a current (active) infection, while blood tests that look for antibodies can identify a previous infection with the virus.

The main types of tests available to detect COVID-19 include:

  • Diagnostic molecular tests: These are the most reliable tests for diagnosing COVID-19. They use the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) DNA technique to detect the virus. This test is done via nasal or throat swab, or through a saliva sample.
  • Diagnostic antigen test: These include rapid tests, which provide results more quickly, but are more likely to return an incorrect result and miss an active infection.
  • Antibody test: These tests look for the immune system's response to the COVID-19 virus. These tests should not be used to detect an active infection.

When to Get Tested for COVID-19

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, it's important to be tested right away to get early treatment and avoid spreading the infection to others. These tests are widely available. You can be tested at your healthcare provider's office, COVID-19 testing clinics, the hospital, or your local pharmacy.

Treatment

It's essential that you receive a proper diagnosis prior to undergoing treatment for an allergy or COVID-19-related cough.

While remedies to relieve symptoms, such as cough drops, may be similar for an allergy cough or a COVID-19 cough, the underlying cause of these conditions is very different, and there is almost no overlap when it comes to the treatment of the root cause.

Allergies

Identifying your allergy triggers and avoiding these substances is an important part of treating an allergy cough.

Allergies are typically treated with medications, including:

Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy that present the only potential cure for allergies. Immunotherapy involves small injections or sublingual (under the tongue) administration of the allergen (the substance you are allergic to) over a period of time. This can desensitize your immune system to your allergy trigger. Immunotherapy is not available for every type of allergy.

COVID-19

If you do not have symptoms of COVID-19, or if your symptoms are very mild, you may be instructed to self-isolate and use over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), to manage your symptoms. You should also get plenty of rest and drink fluids.

The treatment options for COVID-19 are evolving. Treatment options include, but are not limited to, supplemental oxygen, Veklury (remdesivir), and, depending on the circumstances, Ozurdex (dexamethasone).

Prevention

Allergies

The best way to prevent allergy symptoms, including a cough, is to identify and avoid allergy triggers. Allergy testing can identify the substance that is responsible for your cough and steps can be taken to avoid that substance.

For example, if you are allergic to pollen, monitor the pollen counts in your area and avoid going outside as much as possible during the times when counts are high. If you are allergic to dust, take care to rid the dust in your home, particularly in the room where you sleep.

It's also important to develop a treatment plan with your healthcare provider and stick to that plan.

COVID-19

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you:

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Wear a face mask.
  • Social distance.
  • Avoid large crowds.
  • Avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
  • Wash hands regularly.
  • Clean and disinfect your space regularly.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or you suspect you may have it, it's imperative that you self-isolate to prevent spreading the infection.

A Word From Verywell

While both allergies and COVID-19 may cause a dry cough, many of the other symptoms associated with these conditions differ and can serve as an indication for which condition you have. Individuals who suffer from allergies have usually had symptoms in the past and know what to expect, while symptoms of COVID-19 will feel different and new.

The only definitive way to know the difference is to get tested for COVID-19 at a nearby testing facility, healthcare provider's office, or local pharmacy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How similar are the symptoms of COVID-19 and seasonal allergies?

    While seasonal allergies and COVID-19 share some symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, and congestion, there are certain symptoms of COVID-19 that you would not expect to experience with seasonal allergies. These include loss of taste and smell, fever, diarrhea, and nausea or vomiting.

  • Can you get a sinus headache from COVID-19?

    COVID-19 patients commonly experience headaches. In some cases they may feel similar to sinus headaches. If you are experiencing a lot of congestion, it may even be possible to develop sinusitis secondary to COVID-19.

  • Do allergies cause fever like COVID-19?

    Seasonal allergies do not typically cause a fever.

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9 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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