Do You Have COVID-19 or Allergies?
The arrival of spring allergy season has many people wondering if their runny noses and sore throats are allergies triggered by rising pollen rates or COVID-19 symptoms. Find out what to do if you have these overlapping symptoms.
COVID-19 vs. allergy symptoms
“It’s important to not necessarily discount symptoms, even if they’re mild,” said Daniel Solomon, M.D., an infectious disease doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “If you’re experiencing symptoms, you should get tested for COVID-19 so that we can guide appropriate treatment and give thoughtful direction about isolation in order to keep everyone around us safe.”
|Itchy nose, eyes, mouth or inner ear||No||Yes|
|Runny or stuffy nose||Yes||Yes|
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
COVID-19 testing options
Get tested for COVID-19 if you have COVID-19 symptoms or you’ve been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
“Close contact” means you spent time directly with an infected person. This means you were within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period. The 15 minutes do not need to be at the same time. For example, three separate 5-minute exposures over the course of a day would total a 15-minute exposure.
Patients can now schedule a COVID-19 test directly in Patient Gateway. We also have community vans that offer limited COVID-19 tests on select days and times; no appointment is needed. Please view the schedule for when we will be in your neighborhood. You also can use a home testing kit (often called antigen tests). Please do not go to the emergency room or urgent care only to get a COVID-19 test.
If you don’t have COVID-19, it’s possible you may have another infection. Other respiratory viruses are spreading in the community right now, including a late-season rise in flu cases. Your primary care provider can diagnose these infections and guide treatment.
Managing spring allergies
If you have allergies, your allergist or primary care provider can help you get relief from symptoms and control asthma triggered by allergies.
“The symptom overlap between COVID-19 and springtime allergies can be confusing with the start to the spring season,” said Paige G. Wickner, M.D., MPH, an allergist and immunologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “It’s important with rising COVID rates to test for COVID-19 to clarify. Start your springtime allergy regimen now and follow it consistently for the next 4 weeks.”
Your allergist may recommend treatment options, including:
- A prescription nasal steroid spray. Use the spray before allergy season starts and continue to use it daily for protection from pollen.
- Oral antihistamines. These medications block histamine, which triggers allergic swelling. They can calm symptoms like sneezing and runny noses.
- Saline nasal rinse with distilled water. Rinses can help wash out pollen and mucous from the nasal passages.
- Eye drops. Drops can help reduce itchiness, redness, and swelling.
- Immunotherapy, like allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). Patients who get allergy shots receive injections of allergens over time, with increases in dosage. These patients gradually become less sensitive to that allergen. Allergy shots can work well for people allergic to pollen and for patients with asthma. SLIT treats certain allergies without injections. Patients take a small doses of an allergen under the tongue while supervised by an allergist. This exposure helps the patient build tolerance to the allergen so that symptoms improve.