Allergies vs. COVID-19: What Are the Differences?

If you have developed a runny nose, sore throat, or watery eyes, you may wonder if you are experiencing allergy symptoms or have COVID-19. While many allergy and COVID-19 symptoms overlap, there are some ways to tell these two issues apart.

Learn more from this overview about the differences between allergies and COVID-19 symptoms and when to seek testing or medical care.

A woman holds her throat with her hand and grimaces.

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Comparing Symptoms

Nasal congestion, runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache, and fatigue can occur with both COVID-19 and allergies.

The presence of other symptoms may be what helps you sort one from the other. In particular, symptoms like fever, body aches, loss of taste and smell, and gastrointestinal symptoms are usually only seen with COVID-19, and not with allergies. Likewise, itchy eyes and nose are allergy symptoms, but not COVID-19 symptoms.

That said, you don't have to have every possible symptom to suspect COVID-19 or allergies. Both can present with just a single symptom (like a runny nose).

Symptom   COVID-19  Allergies
Itchy eyes No Yes
Watery eyes No Yes
Sneezing Yes 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.

Paying attention to subtle differences in overlapping symptoms may also help you distinguish allergies from COVID-19. For example, with allergies, nasal discharge tends to be clear and fatigue is mild. On the other hand, viral infections like COVID-19 tend to produce thicker nasal secretions. Also, fatigue may be intense.

In addition, allergy coughs often result from irritation and discharge. As such, they are "wet" and productive. With COVID-19, the cough is dry.

Allergy symptoms can appear soon after contact with the offending allergen, such as mold or pollen.

Symptoms of COVID-19 typically appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. While most of the different COVID-19 variants show similar symptoms, they can vary in terms of their severity and spread.

Those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are least likely to experience severe symptoms, while those who are unvaccinated are most at risk of severe illness and death. In addition, some people experience "long COVID," or chronic symptoms that last for weeks or months.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided a coronavirus self-checker tool to help you decide when to seek testing or medical care. While not a substitute for a consultation with a healthcare provider, it can be a useful starting point.

Testing for COVID-19

Of course, the only way to know for sure whether you have allergies or the virus is to take a COVID-19 test.

Early detection can help prevent you from spreading the virus. The CDC recommends testing in the following situations:

  • You have symptoms
  • You have been exposed to someone with COVID-19
  • Routine screening for schools or workplaces
  • Before and after traveling

Rapid tests are available over the counter. These tests look for the virus's proteins in your nose and provide results in 15 to 30 minutes.

Polymer chain reaction (PCR) tests look for the virus's genetic material in your nose. You can get one done at a pharmacy or health clinic. These results usually take 24 hours or more.

Keep in mind that COVID-19 tests can produce false negatives, meaning your results say you don't have the virus when you really do. This is especially true if you test too early. With this in mind, if your symptoms persist or people in your household also begin exhibiting symptoms, it's a good idea to test again.

Treating COVID-19

If you test positive for COVID-19, it is essential to isolate at home until you are well to avoid spreading the illness. Get adequate rest, fluids, and watch your symptoms closely during that time.

The CDC recommends the following:

  • Stay home and follow the current isolation and quarantine guidelines.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Take OTC medicines if they help.
  • Monitor your symptoms and seek medical attention if they become severe.
  • Stay in a separate room from the rest of your household while you are sick.
  • Wear a mask if you must leave your room.
  • Let close contacts know that they may have been exposed.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Avoid sharing personal items with other people, including towels.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in your home (or have someone else help you with this task).
  • Open windows or use an air purifier to improve ventilation.

In addition, if someone in your household has COVID-19, follow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s guide for disinfecting.

Managing Allergies

While you can't always prevent allergy symptoms, there are some things you can do to manage them and limit your exposure to allergens:

  • Keep the windows closed and stay indoors when pollen counts are high.
  • Wash hands or shower and change clothing after spending time outside.
  • Treat symptoms with decongestants, antihistamines, and nasal spray steroids, as directed.
  • Get allergy shots (immunotherapy), if recommended.
  • Wear a pollen mask or dust mask when mowing the lawn or gardening.
  • Rinse your nasal passages with a neti pot.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier to ease dryness.
  • Put petroleum jelly in the nose if it becomes irritated.

The most effective way to manage allergies is to learn what you are allergic to and reduce or avoid exposure to it.

When to Seek Emergency Care

Certain symptoms of COVID-19 and allergies are warning signs and require immediate medical attention.

Sometimes allergies result in a severe, life-threatening reaction, called anaphylaxis. If you notice any of the following symptoms, seek emergency medical care, immediately:

  • Skin flushing
  • Hives
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Feeling of pending doom

If you or someone else has COVID-19 and 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.

Summary

Allergies and COVID-19 share some overlapping symptoms. However, even among shared symptoms, there are some distinctions. For example, both may present with a cough and fatigue. However, an allergy cough is wet, while a COVID-19 cough is dry; and fatigue with allergies tends to be milder than fatigue associated with COVID-19.

In addition, some symptoms of each are not present in the other. For instance, common allergy symptoms not associated with COVID-19 include itching and watery eyes. Conversely, common COVID-19 symptoms not seen with allergies include fever, body aches, and loss of taste or smell.

A Word From Verywell

If you're not sure whether your symptoms could be the result of allergies or COVID-19, it's best to play it safe and take a test. Follow the CDC guidelines for testing and care and watch your symptoms closely if you test positive. If you experience any warning signs, including difficulty breathing, confusion, chest pain, or trouble staying awake, seek emergency medical care right away.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do allergy symptoms vs. COVID-19 symptoms last?

    COVID-19 symptoms usually resolve within two weeks after onset, but this can vary by person. For some people, symptoms can last weeks or months after the acute infection has resolved. Allergy symptoms usually last longer and are often seasonal.

  • Will both allergy and COVID-19 symptoms respond to allergy medicine?

    For many people, allergy symptoms respond well to antihistamines. However, allergy medicine is not recommended for COVID-19, as viral symptoms do not generally respond to allergy medication.

  • Will I still be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine if I have allergies?

    Unless you are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine, the CDC recommends getting the COVID-19 vaccine even if you have other allergies, such as seasonal allergies.

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11 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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