Is My Sore Throat Caused by Allergies or COVID? How to Tell the Difference

If you have developed a runny nose, sore throat, or watery eyes this year, you may be wondering if you have allergy symptoms or coronavirus (COVID-19).

Learn more from this overview about the differences between allergies and COVID and their symptoms, as well as when to seek professional treatment.

A woman holds her throat with her hand and grimaces.

Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Common Allergy Symptoms

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

  • Itchy eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Runny, stuffy, or itchy nose
  • 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 respiratory conditions such as asthma that are triggered by allergies)

Does Everyone With COVID Experience Similar Symptoms?

COVID-19 can cause a wide range of symptoms. Some people have mild (or no) symptoms, while others have severe illness. People who are fully vaccinated and contract COVID are less likely to experience severe symptoms. Symptoms may occur at different times during the infection, and do not always overlap. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. For some, symptoms can last longer than this period.

Common COVID Symptoms

All the symptoms of COVID are not yet known. Currently, most of the different variants of COVID show similar symptoms but can vary by severity and spread.

Some commonly recognized 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

Allergies vs. COVID: A Checklist

Symptoms: COVID vs. Allergies
Symptom   COVID  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.

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

Common symptoms of COVID 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 include:

  • Itchy/watery eyes
  • Sneezing

Coronavirus Self-Checker

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided a tool to help decide if testing or medical care is needed regarding COVID. While not a substitute for a consultation with a healthcare professional, it can be used as a helpful starting point. It can be accessed here.

When to Seek a Professional Diagnosis and Treatment

If you have been in contact with someone who has COVID, or have reason to believe you may have COVID (whether or not symptoms are present), you should seek guidance from a healthcare professional right away.

Testing guidelines in terms of who should be tested and when can vary and are updated as more information becomes available. Stay up to date by regularly checking the CDC testing guidelines.

When to Seek Emergency Care

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.

How to Manage Allergies

Seasonal allergies can be managed in the following ways:

  • Learn what the allergens are and reduce or eliminate exposure to them.
  • If allergens are from outside sources, keep the windows closed and stay indoors when pollen/mold/weed counts are high.
  • Wash hands or shower and change clothing after spending time outside.
  • If necessary, treat allergy symptoms with medications such as decongestants, antihistamines, and nasal spray steroids.
  • Allergy shots (immunotherapy) can help desensitize people to specific allergens.
  • Wear a pollen mask or dust mask (such as when mowing the lawn).
  • Clean the inside of the nose with saline (salt water).
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier.
  • Put petroleum jelly on the nose if it becomes irritated.

Ways to Prevent COVID

To prevent catching and/or spreading COVID, take measures such as:

  • Get fully vaccinated: Get the required number of COVID vaccine shots (by manufacturer), and a booster if necessary.
  • Wear a mask: Wear a mask indoors in public areas, regardless of vaccination status. Wear a mask around others if you are unvaccinated and/or are around others who are unvaccinated.
  • Socially distance: Stay at least six feet away from people who do not live in your household. Stay at least six feet away from anyone who lives in your household who is sick.
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated areas: Being in places like restaurants, bars, fitness centers, or movie theaters increases the risk of catching COVID-19. Avoid indoor places that do not bring in fresh air from the outdoors as much as possible.
  • Wash hands frequently: Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are unavailable.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth: If you must touch these areas, wash hands thoroughly first.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes: If done into a mask, change to a clean mask after. If not wearing a mask, use a tissue or your elbow. Wash hands thoroughly after sneezing or coughing.
  • Clean and disinfect: Clean and disinfect all high-use surfaces (such as doorknobs, counters, and switches) daily. If someone has COVID, follow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s guide for disinfecting in regard to COVID.
  • Monitor your health: Watch for COVID symptoms, and be aware of possible exposure to COVID.

A Word From Verywell

There is some overlap of symptoms between COVID and seasonal allergies. This can cause confusion and anxiety if you experience these symptoms.

Symptoms of both can vary from person to person. In general, itching (eyes and nose, etc.) and sneezing are more of an indication of allergies than of COVID. Fever, muscle and body aches, chills, loss of taste/smell, and gastrointestinal symptoms are more common with COVID than allergies.

Because COVID can be serious, it is better to play it safe. If you have symptoms of COVID, you should follow the CDC guidelines for testing and care.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

    COVID symptoms usually resolve about two weeks after onset, but this can vary by person. For some people, COVID symptoms can last longer. Allergy symptoms usually last longer and are often seasonal.

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

    For many people, allergy symptoms respond well to allergy medicine. Allergy medicine is not a treatment for COVID.

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

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

Was this page helpful?
7 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.
  1. HealthLink BC. Hay fever and other seasonal allergies. Updated October 7, 2019.

  2. Nemours. Seasonal allergies (hay fever). Updated October 2016.

  3. Centers For Disease Control. Frequently asked questions. Updated September 13, 2021.

  4. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. What you need to know about variants. Updated September 3, 2021.

  5. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). October, 2020.

  6. Lechien JR, Chiesa-Estomba CM, Beckers E, et al. Prevalence and 6-month recovery of olfactory dysfunction: a multicentre study of 1363 COVID-19 patients. Journal of Internal Medicine. 2021;290(2):451-461. doi: 10.1111/joim.13209

  7. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccines for people with allergies. Updated March 25, 2021.