COVID or Allergies? Here’s Which Allergens Are Highest Right Now and What to Know
It may not be fall just yet, but seasonal allergies are peaking in the Chicago area, experts say, causing confusion for many who might be unsure if they now have COVID as symptoms continue to overlap.
Three allergens in particular are wreaking havoc for allergy sufferers right now, according to Loyola Allergist Dr. Rachna Shah.
“Right now, based on our pollen counts we have a lot ragweed in the air, other weeds and mold – all three of those are at high levels,” Shah told NBC 5. “It signifies the peak of our season, so the peak of late summer, early fall is now.”
And that peak is expected to continue until the end of September for those particularly sensitive to ragweed. Mold levels can depend on the weather, with levels typically plummeting after the first freeze.
While there are several overlapping symptoms when it comes to allergies and COVID – such as runny nose, sneezing, irritation in the throat – Shah said there are some ways to differentiate between the two.
“The symptoms that we see when it’s COVID compared to those that they have allergies are generally sore throat, fevers, body aches and pains,” Shah said.
Meanwhile, symptoms like itchy eyes or ears are largely signs of allergies.
Currently, the highly contagious BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants account for most reported cases this summer.
Those subvariants have caused more upper respiratory, cold and flu-like symptoms, according to Chicago’s top doctor.
Before self-diagnosing, health officials have said the best way to identify the source of your symptoms is through testing, especially given some overlap between the coronavirus and seasonal allergies.
“The at home tests they are still a good way to kind of screen and determine if you have COVID or not,” Shah said.
And other allergy experts agree.
“When in doubt, I would say test up before you actually go and expose other people,” Dr. Sai Nimmagadda , an allergist at Lurie Children’s Hospital, told NBC 5 last month.
That’s especially important for those who will be around immunocompromised or at-risk individuals.
“If you test negative the first time, you should repeat it – especially if your symptoms are continuing or they’re not responding to your classic allergy treatment medication,” Nimmagadda said.
Similarly, under revised guidance from the FDA, individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19 may need to take as many as three at-home tests.
Here’s a list of COVID and allergy symptoms as outlined by the CDC:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell (although doctors have noted that the latest COVID variants typically will not cause loss of taste or smell)
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Even those who receive the coronavirus vaccine can also still contract the virus and may experience symptoms. Most vaccinated people, though, either have no symptoms or exhibit very mild symptoms, according to health officials, and the virus rarely results in hospitalization or death for those individuals.
The CDC advises seeking medical attention if a person is experiencing trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion and inability to wake or stay awake, as well as pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds.
- Symptoms from allergic rhinitis include:
- runny nose
- Symptoms from allergic conjunctivitis include:
- red, watery, or itchy eyes