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Is It Allergies or COVID-19?

Our allergy experts explain how to tell the symptoms apart

When spring arrives, so does allergy season. If you’re one of the millions of people worldwide who experience them, seasonal allergies are probably more of an annoyance than a cause for alarm. But because allergies and COVID-19 have some symptoms in common, you may be feeling more anxiety than usual right now.

We asked Rush allergists Mahboobeh Mahdavinia, MD, PhD, and Sindhura Bandi, MD, to help by explaining some key differences between allergies and COVID-19.

  • Although it’s referred to as “hay fever,” allergies do not actually cause a fever. Fever is one of the telltale signs of COVID-19.
  • While allergies can make you feel tired, they do not cause extreme fatigue to the point where you can’t get out of bed. COVID-19 can cause severe fatigue.
  • Allergies rarely cause body aches; significant body aches are often associated with COVID-19. 
  • Allergies almost always cause increased secretions; in fact, runny nose is the most common symptom of seasonal allergies. So if you develop a dry cough with no runny nose, chances are you aren’t experiencing seasonal allergies and should consider getting tested for COVID-19.
  • Allergy is a chronic disease: You develop the same symptoms — runny nose, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip and itching — every year at the same time. If you have seasonal allergies, it’s important to know the pattern of your allergy symptoms in the past. Are these your usual symptoms, or are they new? If this is the first year you have developed these symptoms, the culprit is probably not seasonal allergies. It may not be COVID-19, either, but you may want to take the precaution of getting tested.
  • You can test for allergies by taking an antihistamine, like cetirizine or fexofenadine. Allergy symptoms will significantly improve within a couple of hours of taking allergy medication. COVID-19 symptoms do not improve with antihistamines.

"While there are some symptoms that may be more common with allergies or with COVID-19, I recommend reaching out to your physician to review your health history and current symptoms,” Bandi says. “Getting an accurate diagnosis will help you receive the appropriate treatment, whether you have allergies, COVID-19 or another condition.”

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Rush offers video visits to evaluate a variety of conditions, including novel coronavirus concerns. Visit our On Demand Video Visits page to learn more or to start a visit with a Rush provider.

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