PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Sneezes, sniffles and coughs — it’s that time of year again. As allergy season springs into action amid the pandemic, some may be wondering how to tell the difference? 

With many overlapping symptoms such as watery eyes or a runny nose, it can be challenging to discern simple allergies from what could be COVID-19. 

While the easiest method to quickly tell if those sniffles are pollen or pandemic-related is to take a COVID test — not everyone has access to rapid testing.

To help people determine the difference, KOIN 6 News spoke with a local allergy specialist and compiled a list of common symptoms of both COVID-19 and seasonal allergies below, as outlined by the Mayo Clinic:

Muscle achesUsuallyNever
Itchy nose, eyes, mouth, or inner earNeverUsually
Sore throatUsuallyRarely
Runny, stuffy noseUsuallyUsually
Pink eyeSometimesSometime
Nausea, vomitingSometimesNever
Loss of smell or tasteUsuallySometimes
Data Courtesy Mayo Clinic

Last Thursday, Dr. Shyam Joshi, assistant professor of allergy and clinical immunology at the OHSU School of Medicine told KOIN 6 News, while it can be very difficult to spot the difference between allergy and COVID-19 symptoms, there are a few ways to discern the two. 

“You can look at the symptoms specifically… A lot of them are the same: nasal congestion, fatigue, headache, coughing,” Dr. Joshi said. “But for allergies, we much more commonly see sneezing and itchy watery eyes, versus COVID we see more fevers, chills, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, or an acute and immediate loss of smell or taste.”

Dr. Joshi told KOIN 6 News that residents may be experiencing allergy symptoms earlier this year as the early sun in January brought on tree pollen season to a peak much sooner than what has been seen in previous years. 

In addition to analyzing symptoms, Dr. Joshi said those who are prone to seasonal allergies should keep in mind the unseasonal premature allergy season when trying to determine whether their illness is caused by COVID or allergies.

Dr. Joshi said there is currently no evidence that catching COVID-19 while simultaneously suffering from seasonal allergies would exacerbate either condition.

However, he told KOIN 6 News, COVID-19 could theoretically spread much more quickly during allergy season as more people sneeze and cough, further increasing the particles in the air – but this has yet to be seen.

“This is our first allergy season during COVID without the mask mandate,” Dr. Joshi explained. “So, we will see how things go. The symptoms are very similar so sometimes patients are suffering more because they have two things going on at the same time.”

According to Dr. Joshi, the best way to avoid allergies this season is to avoid exposure. To reduce that pollen exposure, he recommended keeping house and car windows closed and changing clothes when coming inside after being outdoors.

Additionally, Dr. Joshi using an air purification system and taking antihistamines such as Claritin, Zyrtec or nasal sprays can help decrease allergy-related symptoms.

“That is also a way to help differentiate between allergies and COVID,” He added. “If [symptoms respond] very well to typical allergy medications, it’s more likely allergies because COVID doesn’t respond to antihistamines or nasal sprays.”