Fall allergies and COVID-19 symptoms can sometimes overlap. Ronak V. Shah, MD, associate medical director, Mass General Brigham Urgent Care, explains that the current Omicron variant of COVID-19 produces more upper respiratory symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, coughing, fatigue, and headache. These symptoms are similar to what many people with allergies experience.
“The red flag for COVID-19 over allergy is fever—if you have a fever, you are more likely to have COVID-19 than seasonal allergies. Another red flag is loss of smell or taste. About a quarter of people diagnosed the Omicron variant of COVID-19 will have those senses impaired,” says Dr. Shah. If your upper respiratory symptoms are paired with fever, or loss of smell or taste, then you may have COVID-19.
The history preceding your symptoms is also an important clue. If you start feeling symptoms after being outside for a while or mowing your lawn, then consider seasonal allergies. If you have a rapid onset of fatigue, headache, and a runny nose, or have been unmasked in large public settings, then consider COVID-19.
“Seasonal allergies can really develop at any age,” Dr. Shah explains. “Even if you have no prior history of seasonal allergies, they can still develop in your 20s or 30s.” This can further complicate diagnosis.
Weather can also play a part in developing allergies. “A drier summer leads to more airborne pollen. The allergy season this year has been worse because of that,” he says.
“If you’re someone who has COVID-19 and also has a history of seasonal allergies, then it's important you continue to your allergy medicine because you don't want your allergy symptoms to get worse while you have COVID-19 as well,” says Dr. Shah.
Many people with seasonal allergies also have asthma. Keeping seasonal allergies under control is one way to also keep asthma under control. “Many people with asthma are at increased risk for more severe COVID-19, so complying with your inhaler or oral asthma medication regimen is important,” Dr. Shah confirms.
If you don’t have allergies but have COVID-19, taking allergy medicine will not help your symptoms or change the course of your COVID-19 infection. For patients with allergies, the medicine won’t help resolve your COVID-19 symptoms. But it will prevent your allergies from making your overall symptoms worse.
Everyone should get the COVID-19 vaccine, including patients with seasonal allergies, unless they have specific health reasons not to, as discussed with their doctor.
“The vaccine is safe and it has been very extensively studied,” says Dr. Shah. “You may get what we call constitutional symptoms after being vaccinated, like fever, fatigue, or body aches, but they’re only temporary and a sign your immune system is working.” Even if you don’t get symptoms after being vaccinated, your body is still building immunity. “The vaccine is very, very effective for preventing severe cases of COVID, and it’s 90% effective at reducing hospitalization from severe COVID,” he concludes.