Photo of woman blowing her nose outside with fall leaves all around

Your eyes itch and water and your throat feels scratchy. Your nose is runny, your head feels completely stuffed up, and your face hurts from the pressure. And you want to carry a box of tissues everywhere you go.

If these symptoms appear in late summer or fall, you may be struggling with fall allergies.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, though, how will you know if you are dealing with fall allergy symptoms or coronavirus symptoms? Some of the symptoms are common to both fall allergies and COVID-19.  It will be helpful for you to navigate this unusual fall allergy season by understanding and managing your seasonal allergies to fall pollens, such as ragweed, mold or other allergens.

How do fall allergy symptoms compare to the symptoms of COVID-19?

Some COVID-19 and fall allergy symptoms overlap, such as cough and shortness of breath.

But a primary symptom of COVID-19 is a fever of 100.4 or higher. Fever is not a symptom of allergies.

Another main difference between COVID-19 and allergies is spread. COVID-19 can spread from person to person, while allergies are not contagious.

The chart on this page can help you decide if your symptoms are more like allergies or more like COVID-19. If you are unsure whether your symptoms are fall allergies or COVID-19, schedule an appointment with your doctor and ask about testing for COVID-19.

Infographic on Covid-19 vs Allergies vs Flu

Will fall allergies increase my risk of catching COVID-19 or having more severe symptoms if I do contract COVID-19?

It is not yet known if seasonal allergies put you at higher risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing more severe symptoms if you get COVID-19, according to CDC. People who have severe underlying medical conditions such as asthma or compromised immune systems may be at higher risk for more severe complications if they get COVID-19,

Will wearing a face mask help control my allergies in addition to protecting me from COVID-19?

Wearing a face mask that covers your mouth and nose protects against COVID-19 transmission from person to person. A face mask may also provide some protection against allergies. Masks can keep large allergen particles from being inhaled, according to CDC. Smaller allergen particles may still get through, however.

It’s important to wash the masks after each use to remove pollen particles that may collect on the mask. Or use a disposable mask each time you leave your home.

How can I minimize the impact of fall allergies this year?

This year especially, keep your seasonal allergies in check to reduce any confusion so you can tell the difference between COVID-19 and allergy symptoms. Here are some ways you can reduce your symptoms for indoor and outdoor allergens this fall:

 

How to reduce symptoms from fall outdoor allergens

  • Pre-medicate with an antihistamine and/or corticosteroid nasal spray 2 hours prior to allergen exposure. For eye allergies, use eye drops as needed.
  • Avoid pollens. In late summer and early fall, levels are highest in the morning. Pollen can also surge on windy, warm days and after a thunderstorm or rainfall. Limit time outside when pollen counts are high – usually in the mornings through early afternoons.
  • Avoid fallen leaves. Kids might love to leap into piles of leaves in the backyard, but even just a playful kick can release millions of mold spores into the air – and into your airways. If fall allergens leave your lungs wheezy and your eyes drippy, hire someone to clean leaves from your lawn, gutter or garden. Or ask a friend to rake your leaves in return for a free hour of babysitting or other task.
  • Change clothes when coming inside.
  • Wear a mask when raking leaves and doing outdoor activities.
  • Monitor pollen and mold counts. Airborne pollens can travel for several miles.
  • Keep windows and doors shut at your home; close windows of your car while driving.
  • Take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes after time outside.
  • Dry laundry indoors rather than on a clothesline outdoors.

How to reduce symptoms from fall indoor allergens

  • Before you turn on the heat, change the filter. Then, contact a licensed professional for a tune-up – after all, your heating system is the lungs of your home, so make sure it’s breathing properly. Replace air filters in your home monthly.
  • Give high-humidity areas of your home a fall cleaning. These include the bathroom, laundry room and kitchen. Remove shower heads and soak them in a homemade vinegar solution to get rid of hidden mold, and repair any leaky faucets and pipes. If you need to repaint or wallpaper, make sure all walls are clean and free of any mold. Use a wall product that has been treated to reduce mold.
  • Make your home a smoke-free environment. As the weather grows colder, smokers may be tempted to smoke indoors. Don’t let them.
  • Give your fireplace a facelift. If you or someone in your family has asthma, lighting a strong-smelling wood fire in your fireplace or using scented candles could set off symptoms. Instead, use electric candles to create a seasonal glow. Also, remember that fireplaces need cleaning. If you have burned wood a lot, get a professional to thoroughly clean the fireplace, flue and chimney. Gas fireplaces must be cleaned as well. Use a homemade vinegar solution to clean glass doors and vacuum any debris.
  • Show sheet savvy. When you’re swapping summer linens for winter ones, tuck them in zippered, plastic bags so that they’ll be fresh and clean for next year. Replace non-washable, heavy blankets – which are perfect places for dust mites – with several layers of breathable, machine-washable fabrics. And be sure to cover your pillows and mattresses with dust mite-proof covers.
  • Run an exhaust fan or crack a window for ventilation during and after showers. If you don’t already have one, buy an inexpensive, mildew-free shower curtain.
  • De-clutter your home. Keep dust and dust mites from accumulating by vacuuming upholstered furniture, carpets and crowded closets weekly. Remove any piles of newspapers, magazines, and other piles of papers. Hire a professional cleaning service if needed.

For 80% of people, COVID-19 symptoms are mild, and feel like the flu. So what’s the difference?

It’s important to know how you can tell the difference between COVID-19 symptoms, the flu and seasonal allergies and what can put you at risk for COVID-19. Use this table as a guide.

Covid-19

Symptoms

Spread-person-to-person
Fever (100.4° F or higher)
Sore throat
Headache
Fatigue (tiredness)
Muscle or body aches (or chills)
Runny or stuffy nose
Cough
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Nausea or vomiting
Diarrhea
Loss of taste & smell

Flu

Symptoms
Spread person-to-person
Fever
Sore throat
Headache
Fatigue (tiredness)
Muscle or body aches (or chills)
Runny nose or stuffy nose
Cough
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Allergies

Symptoms
Not spread person-to-person
Itchy nose, sneezing
Itchy, watery eyes, redness
Itchy, sensitive skin, rash or hives- swelling
Wheeze, chest tightness
Runny or stuffy nose
Cough
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Covid-19

Prevention

Wear a mask over your nose & mouth

Wash your hands frequently

Watch your distance: avoid close contact with others – keep six feet apart and avoid crowds

Avoid touching your eyes, nose & mouth

Avoid exposure whenever possible

Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, if needed

Flu

Prevention

Wash your hands frequently

Watch your distance: avoid close contact with others – keep six feet apart and avoid crowds

Avoid touching your eyes, nose & mouth

Avoid exposure whenever possible

Get the flu vaccine

Allergies

Prevention

Avoid your allergy triggers

If you’re not sure what your triggers are, ask your doctor about allergy testing

Medicate for allergies before pollen season or potential exposure

Covid-19

Treatment

Stay home and rest, except to get medial care

Call your doctor if you think you were exposed

Call ahead before going to the doctor

Request a COVID-19 test

Stay away from others

Flu

Treatment

Stay home and rest, except to get medical care

Contact your doctor early if you’re at high risk

Antiviral drugs may be an option for people at high risk for complications and people with lung conditions

Most people don’t need to go to the emergency room

Allergies

Treatment

Take prescribed or over-the-counter allergy medications

Antihistamines

Nasal sprays

Allergy shots

Allergy tablets

Nasal wash/rinse

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