Is It Fall Allergies or COVID-19?

Is it Fall Allergies or COVID-19?

Ellen Lindner / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • Seasonal allergies are typically caused by allergic sensitization to pollen and mold spores.
  • Although fall allergies appear like COVID-19 symptoms, they don’t cause muscle aches, fevers, or vomiting.
  • The best you can do if you suspect you might have COVID-19 is get tested and self-quarantine.

If you've been sneezing and coughing lately, fall allergies may be to blame. But as COVID-19 continues to circulate, it’s understandable to feel concerned when you feel these symptoms coming on.

While some allergy and COVID-19 symptoms do overlap, experts say there are some basic differences that will help you tell them apart. Here’s how you can differentiate between the two.

What Causes Fall Allergies?

Seasonal allergies are the body’s immune response triggered by exposure to certain allergens. Unlike COVID-19, allergies are not caused by a virus.

“Allergic sensitization to pollen causes seasonal allergies,” Stephanie Leeds, MD, Yale Medicine allergist and immunologist, tells Verywell. “In the fall, this is predominantly due to weed pollen, and in the spring, this is predominantly due to tree pollen.”

Although seasonal allergies may be caused by different kinds of allergens throughout the year, such as mold spores or various pollen particles, the clinical manifestation is generally similar.

“The underlying immune mechanisms that cause the allergy symptoms are essentially the same, and both can cause typical symptoms of rhinitis and conjunctivitis,” Leeds says.

Big shifts in weather, including temperature, humidity levels, and barometric pressure, can also trigger worsening sinus symptoms, Kara Wada, MD, allergy specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Verywell. So a drop in temperatures as we transition to the fall may be driving some of your allergies.

If you feel like your fall allergies have been particularly bad this year, you’re not alone. Pollen seasons are generally becoming worse.

“Over the last few decades, we have seen a steady rise in pollen counts and lengthening of the allergy season with climate change,” Wada says. “Both of these contribute to worsening allergy symptoms.”

Pollen trends from 1990 to 2018 show that pollen seasons became longer by 20 days and pollen concentrations increased by 21%. This trend is likely to continue in the coming years, further aggravating its effects on respiratory health.

Experiencing any kind of upper respiratory symptom can be worrisome as the threat of COVID-19 remains. However, there are some key differences.

What This Means For You

Fall allergies may have some overlapping symptoms with COVID-19, but they do not cause muscle aches, fevers, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. If you suspect you have COVID-19, you can get tested and go into self-quarantine while waiting for test results.

How Do Fall Allergies Compare to COVID-19 Symptoms?

Fall allergies may look like COVID-19, but you can tell them apart because some symptoms are unique to one or the other.

“Fatigue, nasal congestion or drainage, and sore throat can overlap between the two conditions,” Wada says. However, allergies often involve itching, which is not common with COVID-19.

According to Leeds, COVID-19 rarely ever causes symptoms like sneezing and itchy or watery eyes. In addition, seasonal allergies do not typically cause the following COVID-19 symptoms:

  • Fevers
  • Muscle pains or aches
  • Loss of smell
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 

A new loss of taste or smell can also result from seasonal allergies, but it's rare. This symptom may be a sign of COVID-19 if you do not have nasal congestion or a runny nose. If you are concerned about possibly being infected with COVID-19, the best you can do is get tested.

“When in doubt, I recommend patients consider getting tested,” Wada says. “It is also important to wear a mask and isolate to minimize spreading to those with weak immune systems or those unable to be vaccinated yet.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
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.
  1. Anderegg, WRL, Abatzoglou JT, Anderegg, LDL, et al. Anthropogenic climate change is worsening North American pollen seasons. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Feb 2021;118(7). doi:10.1073/pnas.2013284118

By Carla Delgado
Carla M. Delgado is a health and culture writer based in the Philippines.