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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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How to differentiate between allergies, the common cold, COVID-19

It can be difficult to tell what’s giving you the sniffles

By , Columbian staff writer
2 Photos
Illustration of pollen grains from different plants.
Illustration of pollen grains from different plants. (iStock.com) Photo Gallery

Spring allergy season in the Northwest is here. Plus, the common cold is circulating, and COVID-19 cases are on the rise. With so much going around, it might be difficult to discern what’s giving you the sniffles.

Symptoms of the prevalent BA2 variant of COVID-19 are more similar to allergies than previous variants, according to Dr. Mark Chan, allergy and immunology specialist with Kaiser Permanente in Portland.

“What makes it a bit more confusing now is with the new variant, symptoms are much milder, and they can masquerade as something like allergies or a cold,” Chan said. “Some of the common symptoms include runny nose, sinus pressure, headaches and, if these irritant processes get to the lung, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.”

One symptom that specifically points to allergies is itchiness, Chan said.

“Itchy, watery eyes; itchy, runny nose; and sneezing are common allergy symptoms, and that itch is usually not as prominent in COVID,” Chan said. “Fever and muscle pain, and complete congestion with loss of smell, chill and diarrhea are symptoms more indicative of COVID. While you can experience loss of taste with allergies, one of the telltale symptoms of COVID is fever, which is a unique COVID symptom outside of allergies.”

With the prevalence of at-home COVID-19 tests, Chan recommends getting tested no matter your symptoms. Additionally, wearing a mask can not only help limit virus transmission; it also can help reduce pollen exposure if you’re experiencing allergies.

“If you are ill or if there are other people that are ill and you want to minimize spread, a mask is a good thing to have on hand,” he said. “With the pollen season, masks can help with working and being outside. It’s really a win-win, as it cuts down on virus transmission and pollen exposure.”

If you are experiencing shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, contact your medical provider, Chan said.