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How to tell the difference between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies

Posted August 30, 2021 by Shanu Agarwal, MD

Woman blowing nose

At the first sign of a scratchy throat or cough, people can’t help but wonder whether they’ve contracted COVID-19 — and rightfully so.

But just because you have a sore throat and cough, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve contracted COVID-19. Pollen counts are high, affecting you or someone you know with seasonal allergies.

COVID-19 and seasonal allergies both affect the respiratory system and share similar symptoms, so it can be difficult to tell them apart.

One way to tell the difference is the duration of symptoms. Allergy symptoms can last the entire season, sometimes as long as four to six weeks, and usually come around the same time each year. In contrast, COVID-19 symptoms can last anywhere from 7 to 25 days.

In addition, the rate at which symptoms appear is also helpful in determining what you’re suffering from. If it’s COVID-19 the symptoms seem to come on quickly, over a few days. When it comes to allergies, symptoms tend to gradually get worse over a couple of weeks.

Summa Health breaks down symptom differences between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies. Taking stock of your symptoms and how long they last will help you determine what’s causing you trouble.


COVID-19 is a lower-respiratory illness. The telltale signs of COVID-19 are a deep, dry cough, meaning you don't produce much phlegm when you cough and a higher fever of 102 or 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Other symptoms to watch for include:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Sometimes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea

If you develop any of these symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, contact your medical provider right away for advice. If you experience persistent pain in the chest, are suddenly confused, or have trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately.

Seasonal allergies

Typical seasonal allergy symptoms include runny nose, sneezing and itchy and watery eyes. It is unlikely to develop a fever due to allergies. In addition, people with allergies can experience:

  • Low energy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of smell
  • Nasal congestion
  • Pain and pressure in sinuses
  • Scratchy throat
  • Sometimes a dry cough

The delta variant now has contributed to the majority of COVID-19 cases and symptoms can include runny nose and sneezing in addition to the symptoms described above with previous strains.

If you’re struggling to distinguish your symptoms and think you may be suffering from COVID-19, contact your health-care provider for advice or have a virtual visit. Just make sure to call the office first before going in.

Learn more about COVID-19

Shanu Agarwal, MD

Shanu Agarwal, MD

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