COVID-19 or allergies? UNC doctor says to be mindful of symptoms this year


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – You have a runny nose, a cough, and this year, a big question.

Are your symptoms just spring allergies, or could they be COVID-19? Doctors hear that question a lot.

“I have had this question trying to distinguish between allergies and COVID so much,” said Dr. Sofija Volertas. She is an allergist-immunologist at UNC.

She said COVID-19 and allergies can share several of the same symptoms.

According to the CDC: cough, fatigue, headache, sore throat, and congestion or runny nose can all occur with both COVID-19 and allergies.

Shortness of breath can occur with both, but only if allergies trigger asthma or another respiratory problem.

Volertas said allergies generally affect the eyes and nose.

“If you’re having an itchy nose, watery eyes, that’s allergies,” she said.

Allergies should not cause fever, body aches, or gastrointestinal issues. COVID-19 can, but not necessarily right away. That can make it tough to figure out what’s going on when symptoms first start.

“If you’ve had allergies every single year, you know what tends to trigger your allergies,” Volertas said, adding that chances are if you’ve been near one of those triggers, you’re dealing with allergies.

“That’s an important way to know the difference,” she said. “The true beginning of the course of COVID, though, it is harder to tell the difference between those two. It’s kind of up in the air. There’s not a magic ball to know ahead of time, so I would always err on the side of getting tested for COVID if you have any concern that’s what’s going on.”

She said masks can actually help allergies by keeping some pollen out of your airways, but it’s important to wash cloth masks regularly so they don’t collect pollen

If you do have allergies, she says it’s important to take your medicine regularly.

“Allergy medicines only start working after you use them for a couple of days,” she explained. “Start treating them right now before you even have to worry about, ‘Is this COVID or is this allergies?’”

Volertas also said there is another reason to keep allergy symptoms in check this year.

“It’s really important to control your allergies, so you are not already more prone to having more difficulty breathing or sinus infections going on if you do happen to catch COVID.”

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