The unrelenting spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) makes it vital that people stay well-informed about COVID-19—the respiratory illness caused by the virus.
"We're now firmly in spring in North America, when many trees and plants are blooming, and pollen counts are increasing.1Consequently, millions of people will begin to experience seasonal allergies as usual," Chief Patient Officer at Pfizer, Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron explains. "But this time around, things are a bit tricky. The coronavirus pandemic remains the most pressing public health issue, and there's some overlap in COVID-19 and seasonal allergy symptoms."
Here are the differences between the two:
A type of coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19. On the other hand, seasonal allergies (also called hay fever) are caused by an immune system overreaction to pollen from plants and trees.9
Transmission and spread
Persons with COVID-19 transmit it to others—primarily through respiratory droplets that are dispersed into the air when they cough or sneeze.7
Unlike the virus, seasonal allergies cannot be transmitted from person to person. Anyone can develop seasonal allergies at any age, but most of the time, it's inherited. Most people who have seasonal allergies have a parent or family member that has hay fever or other allergies.4
Data indicates that the categories of people that are most vulnerable to COVID-19 are the elderly (aged 65 and older), immunocompromised persons, severely obese people of any age, and those with underlying medical conditions like serious heart conditions, diabetes, kidney failure, chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma and liver disease.2
Seasonal allergies can affect anyone in any age group; however, most people's symptoms are worst during their childhood or adolescence.3
Symptoms and Complications
The symptoms of COVID-19 and seasonal allergies are mostly respiratory. This, coupled with the understandably substantial fear of COVID19, makes it possible for people to confuse one for the other.
The most common COVID-19 symptoms are dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath. These symptoms are experienced at varying degrees of seriousness—from mild to severe.6 Other symptoms and complications of COVID-19 are headaches, sore throat, fatigue, a newfound loss of taste or smell, muscle pain, diarrhea, chills and nausea.1
With seasonal allergies, the more common symptoms include sneezing and itchy eyes, nose, and throat. Other symptoms include a runny or congested nose, sore throat, and cough.1 Most people with seasonal allergies only experience symptoms once or twice every year; however, complications like asthma and sinusitis can develop.4
When should you call your doctor?
If you're experiencing symptoms like cough, fever, and shortness of breath, and you suspect that you've been exposed to the virus, remain at home and contact your doctor.8
Provide your doctor with detailed information about your symptoms—when they started, and their severity level. Ensure that you continually keep your doctor updated on your symptoms, particularly if you feel they may be worsening.8
"Also, if you have a previously scheduled doctor's visit, and suspect you may have COVID-19 before the day of the appointment, call ahead to inform them," Heron adds. "This way, the hospital/clinic staff can make preparations to protect themselves and other patients from infection."8
Finally, if it's an emergency, you (or a member of your household) should reach out to emergency health services immediately.