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Spring allergies or COVID? Differentiating the symptoms

Kaiser Permanente
As symptoms go, COVID-19 and seasonal allergies are getting harder to differentiate. The BA.2 variant can cause symptoms like runny nose, sore throat, coughing, head and body aches- just like allergies. But there are some distinctions.

Now that we’re in spring allergy season, all that sneezing and sniffling has many people wondering how to tell the difference between symptoms of allergies and COVID-19. Here are some clues to watch for.

Key symptoms of the prevalent BA.2 variant are quite similar to those of allergies. Congestion, runny nose, sore throat, headache, shortness of breath.

Dr. Mark Chan is Allergy and Immunology Specialist with Kaiser Permanente. He shared some distinctions. “With allergies, it’s common that you also have a lot of itching. You know like the itchy nose and the itchy eyes and a lot of sneezing,” he said. “Whereas, that’s a bit less common when it comes to the COVID infection.”

Dr. Mark Chan.PNG
Kaiser Permanente
Mark Chan, MD, Allergy and Immunology Specialist with Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Ore.

Chan said allergy sufferers can experience a progressive loss of taste or smell, but with COVID the loss is more abrupt. One *telltale symptom of COVID is fever.

Most of Chan’s patients have had allergies for years and know what to expect. He said, if unique symptoms do appear, it may be wise to take a COVID test.

Web// In addition to offering clues on determining if you have allergies or COVID-19, Dr. Chan said there are measures you can take to help reduce your spring allergy symptoms. Environmental modifications like closing your windows and doors and changing your clothes when you come in from outdoors will help limit pollen exposure.

“Listeners may not be aware-- but pollen levels tend to peak more in the mid-day as the day goes by,” Chan said. “So, the pollen level tends to be a little bit less in the early mornings and late in the day. So, if you have to do a bit of activities, maybe work more outdoors during the early or late times in the day versus in the midday.”

Tiffany Eckert
Wearing an N95 mask can reduce the amount of pollen breathed into the nose, mouth and lungs and reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19

And Chan said wearing a N-95 mask can help with allergies and reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 at the same time.

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.