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April 12, 2022

Is it Covid-19—or just allergies? Here's CDC's guide to telling the difference.

Daily Briefing

    With the arrival of spring, many people may mistakenly believe symptoms of seasonal allergies are Covid-19 and vice versa—leading health experts to offer tips to help people distinguish between the two conditions.

    Prepare and adapt your Covid-19 communication strategy with external and internal stakeholders

    Allergies or Covid-19?

    According to the Los Angeles Times, both the coronavirus and substances that people are commonly allergic to, such as pollen, trigger antibodies in the immune system, which then result in uncomfortable symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, congestion, or a sore throat.

    Because of the potential overlap in symptoms, CDC released a chart to help people distinguish between the two conditions more easily.

    Symptoms that are typically indicative of Covid-19 (but not allergies) include fever, body aches, and loss of smell or taste. In addition, Covid-19 patients are also more likely to feel short of breath, while those with seasonal allergies will not usually experience this symptom unless they also have asthma.

    "You get fever or you get muscle aches, chills; you lose your sense of smell — those are symptoms of a virus, not an allergy," said Troy Baker, an allergist with Kaiser Permanente.

    In addition, Richard Wasserman, the medical director of pediatric allergy and immunology at Medical City Children's Hospital, said while it's possible for people with severe and prolonged allergies to lose their sense of smell or taste, this symptom is more common with Covid-19 and usually occurs more rapidly than it does for those with severe allergies.

    On the other hand, a symptom specific to allergies is itchy or watery eyes. "You'll never get itchiness from a virus or bacteria," said Rita Kachru, section chief of clinical immunology and allergy at the University of California, Los Angeles.

    However, since a coronavirus infection can present with different symptoms, the absence of certain symptoms is not a definitive sign that you don't have Covid-19. Telling the difference between the allergies and Covid-19 may also be particularly difficult if you are fully vaccinated, since you are less likely to experience severe symptoms.

    To be sure if you have Covid-19 or are just experiencing allergies, experts recommend considering the context of your symptoms.

    For example, if your allergies usually get worse around this time of year, think about whether you are experiencing any new symptoms. You should also consider whether you were recently in contact with someone who had Covid-19 or the flu.

    "By and large, when you get the flu or COVID-19, the predominant problems are not this intense itching you get with allergies," said Dean Metcalfe, a principal allergic disease investigator at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "Those things that suggest a wider inflammatory response outside the upper airways are what you have to look out for."

    In addition, if you have allergies year-round, such as to dust or animal dander, "an increase in symptoms or a shift in the symptoms," including more coughing or drainage, may be a sign of Covid-19, Kachru said.

    Currently, CDC recommends people get tested for Covid-19 if they have certain symptoms (fever/chills, cough, shortness of breath, body aches), recently had close contact with someone with Covid-19, are going to an indoor event, or are planning to travel.

    But experts say you should also get tested if you're unsure about any of the symptoms you're experiencing, even if they're commonly associated with allergies.

    "Always err on the side of testing," Kachru said. (Healey, Los Angeles Times, 4/7; Segraves et al., NBC Washington, 4/7)

    Your omicron communication strategy

    Prepare and adapt your Covid-19 communication strategy with external and internal stakeholders


    As omicron continues to surge throughout the country, constantly evolving information and regulatory guidance has made the already challenging task of communicating with stakeholders more difficult. As a result, health care leaders must clearly and efficiently communicate changing guidance and information about the state of the pandemic, rising case numbers, vaccine and booster availability, emerging treatments, internal policies, and more, with community members, patients, and staff.

    Use this resource with internal and external stakeholders to audit your omicron communication strategy and prepare your strategy moving forward.

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