Differentiating symptoms of COVID-19, the flu, and allergies

Local News

LUBBOCK, TX — With fall allergy season starting, cases of COVID-19 still climbing, and both illnesses having overlapping symptoms, it can be difficult to tell which symptoms are a cause for concern. 

“Seasonal allergies primarily affect the upper respiratory system, nose and sinuses,” said Dr. Parakash Shrestha, the Medical Director for Infection Prevention at Covenant Medical Group.

The upper respiratory tract includes the larynx and nasal cavity, but COVID-19 tends to affect more of the lower respiratory tract, which includes the lungs.

One sign of allergies is if the symptoms set in quickly.

“COVID-19 has a very long incubation period. In terms of seasonal allergies, symptoms develop quite promptly. You don’t have to wait that long,” Shrestha said. 

Allergies also cause itchiness in the eyes and nose that not normally indicative of the flu or COVID-19. 

“Itchy, watery eyes, runny nose congestion, if people have asthma that can affect their symptoms so they can be more short of breath,” said Dr. James Tarbox, an allergist at Texas Tech Physicians. 

But there is one telltale symptom of COVID-19 that doesn’t overlap with other illnesses. 

“One specific symptom which favors COVID-19 a lot is new loss of taste. That is one symptom I would say that is more specific to COVID-19,” said Dr. Shrestha. 

Dr. Tarbox said that if you are having symptoms but are not sure what’s causing them, it’s important to call your primary care physician before going to see a doctor. 

“If you’ve had a possible exposure or are concerned you have COVID you should definitely get that checked first. You should try to avoid going into a healthcare situation if you think there is any chance you could spread COVID,” said Dr. Tarbox. 

Both Dr. Tarbox and Dr. Shrestha agree that wearing a mask can prevent not only COVID-19, but allergies too. 

“The mask can really help with blocking pollen particles from getting in your nose and mouth,” said Dr. Tarbox.  

Dr. Tarbox also says that right now, increased smoke in the air from the West Coast fires could also be exacerbating any allergy symptoms someone might have. 

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