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Allergy season has become more complicated since the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have allergies or sinus problems, you may not be sure how to tell the difference between those symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms. Jessica Southwood, MD, otolaryngologist, offers expert guidance to help you better understand these three conditions.

Since sinus and allergy symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms can seem similar and have some overlap, it is important to familiarize yourself with the differences. That way, you and your provider can manage your health care appropriately.

Allergy Symptoms

Allergies can be seasonal (occurring during specific seasons) or perennial (occurring year-round), and those who have seasonal allergies will usually notice a seasonal pattern in their symptoms. Common allergy symptoms include sneezing, itchy and/or watery eyes, dry cough, nasal congestion and a runny nose.

If you have nasal congestion, you may not be able to taste or smell as well as you normally do. Using intranasal steroid sprays, antihistamine pills or saline wash to treat the congestion should return your taste and smell abilities to normal. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, call your doctor.

It is also important to be aware of any new symptoms you may experience during your typical allergy season. These may be caused by something other than allergies.

Sinus Symptoms

Symptoms of sinus problems can easily be mistaken for other conditions, like allergies and the common cold. They can include headaches; facial pain or discomfort; a runny nose or cold-like symptoms that last longer than seven to 10 days; discolored nasal drainage (which can appear green or yellow); a foul odor in the nose; or a cough.

Some sinus symptoms could indicate a sinus infection, also called sinusitis, which can happen when your sinuses become blocked and filled with fluid. Nearly 30 million Americans experience sinusitis. The main sinus infection symptoms include facial pressure or pain, discolored nasal drainage, and congestion.

Sinus infections can be treated with over-the-counter intranasal steroid sprays, short-term use of oral decongestants and saline washes. If this does not relieve your symptoms, contact your doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics.

COVID-19 Symptoms

COVID-19 is the name for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from person to person. Some infected individuals may not experience any symptoms, while others may experience severe disease and need hospitalization. Common COVID-19 symptoms include fever or chills; body aches; a new cough, headache, difficulty breathing, congestion or runny nose not related to allergies; new loss of taste or smell; or gastrointestinal issues such as nausea or diarrhea.

If you have been exposed to COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms or need to learn more about testing, start an E-visit or contact your provider.

COVID-19 vs. Allergies vs. Sinus Symptoms

Sinus and allergy symptoms can overlap, and both share similarities with signs of COVID-19. However, there are some symptoms unique to COVID-19. Gastrointestinal issues, fever, body aches and a new loss of taste or smell are not typical of allergies or a sinus infection.

Symptom COVID-19 Seasonal Allergies Sinus Problems
Fever and chills X    
Muscle and body aches X    
New loss of taste or smell X    
Nausea or vomiting X    
Diarrhea X    
Cough X X X
Shortness of breath X X  
Difficulty breathing X X  
Fatigue X X X
Headache X X X
Sneezing   X X
Nasal congestion X X X
Discolored nasal drainage     X
Foul odor in the nose     X
Itchy or watery eyes   X  
Facial pain     X
Sore throat X X X
Runny nose X X X

Symptoms of the flu are also similar to those of COVID-19, as well as other respiratory illnesses. These are the differences between flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms

How To Prevent COVID-19

You can avoid contracting a severe case of COVID-19 and help slow the spread of the virus by getting vaccinated. Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines and scheduling your vaccination.

We recommend that you follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for avoiding infection and slowing the spread of COVID-19. The CDC regularly updates masking, social distancing and other guidelines as the pandemic evolves.

It is also recommended that you continue to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and to wash your hands often.

How To Ease Allergy Symptoms

While allergies can’t be prevented altogether, you can take steps that help prevent or reduce common allergy symptoms. Know your allergy triggers and avoid situations that involve exposures to those allergens. That may mean delegating certain tasks, such as mowing the grass, to others. If you can’t avoid exposure to your allergy triggers, ask your doctor about medications you could take before exposure to lessen your symptoms.

Finding the Right Treatment for You

If you have a history of chronic allergy or sinus issues, and they are affecting your quality of life, your best resource is your primary care provider or an ear, nose and throat specialist for an in-person or virtual visit. You know what your usual allergy or sinus symptoms are. If you develop symptoms that aren’t typical for you or if symptoms don’t get better with over-the-counter remedies such as oral antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays or nasal saline mist, call your doctor right away to discuss testing for COVID-19, and avoid contact with other people. This is especially important if you think you may have been exposed to the virus.

If you are unsure if your symptoms are related to allergies, sinus issues or COVID-19, contact your primary care provider. The Froedtert & MCW health network offers options for COVID-19 testing and care:

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