More people than ever say they manage allergies. It is among the country’s most common, but overlooked, diseases.

Upwards of 50 million Americans experience seasonal allergies and statistics show it's the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.

And with COVID still spreading in our communities, it can be difficult to tell the difference between typical allergy symptoms and something more serious.

Dr. Puja Rajani

But there's no reason to panic, said Dr. Puja Rajani. As an allergist at Novant Health Pediatric Allergy & Immunology, Rajani explained a few key differences.

1. Fever

Fever is one of the biggest differentiators between the two, Rajani said. COVID can cause a fever; seasonal allergies cannot.

If you have a known history of allergies, consider this: If you do not have a fever, “try a stepwise approach with using your usual treatments, such as long-acting antihistamines or nasal sprays,” Rajani said.

2. Itchiness

Another major distinction is that allergies will come with some level of itchiness. Itchy or watery eyes are common signs of allergies, Rajani said.

Alternatively, someone with COVID may experience symptoms such as:

  • Fever.
  • Dry cough.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • New loss of taste or smell.
Dr. David Priest
Dr. David Priest
Keep in mind, COVID symptoms may vary as new variants emerge. Omicron, for example, most commonly presents as an upper respiratory infection, sore throat, fever, cough and congestion, said Dr. David Priest, Novant Health chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer.

"I don't personally see as much of the loss of taste and smell we saw earlier in the pandemic. So, these variants all have a different predilection for different parts of human anatomy and that can make their presentation a bit different," Priest said.

3. Sore throat or body aches

A sore throat or body aches could be an indication it’s something more serious.

"A quick onset of aches and pains, fatigue, exhaustion or weakness is unlikely with allergies,” Rajani said. “While allergies can cause fatigue, it is usually very gradual, not ‘hitting you like a ton of bricks’ as has been described with viral infections.”

4. Mucus (Hint: The color matters)

If you’re producing mucus, it’s likely allergies or cold and flu symptoms, and not a COVID infection. A runny nose and mucus is typically clear in allergy sufferers, Rajani said.

Yellow or green-colored mucus likely points to a viral condition, such as the flu.

The dreaded flu

It’s estimated that 60,000 hospitalizations each year could be avoided if more people got the vaccine, said Dr. Charles Bregier, Novant Health medical director of corporate health. And the more people who get the flu shot, the more effective it is overall.

The flu vaccine is effective for about six months, so October is the ideal month to get vaccinated. But getting a flu shot any time of year is better than not getting one at all. It protects both you and others from the flu. If you get the flu and bring it home, an at-risk family member could get extremely ill.

“It's the perfect storm brewing out there. If COVID remains bad and it’s a bad flu season, it could completely overwhelm our nation’s health care system,"

Bregier said. (Listen to his advice below.)

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