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How to tell the difference between allergies, COVID, and the flu

This year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked Louisville as the 46th most difficult place to live with allergies in the country.
Published: Mar. 25, 2022 at 12:28 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 25, 2022 at 12:29 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The Ohio Valley is a difficult place for allergy sufferers this time of year, and distinguishing between allergies, COVID, and the flu has become more difficult.

This year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked Louisville as the 46th most difficult place to live with allergies in the country, but distinguishing between allergies, the COVID variant BA.2, and the flu could prove difficult.

Dr. Thomas Higgins from Kentuckiana Ear, Nose & Throat and Dr. Monalisa Tailor from Norton Community Medical Associates said allergy symptoms look different for everyone.

“Some may react more to grasses, some may react more to weeds,” Higgins said. ”That is going to occur as we go through the season.”

The doctors said it is possible to have COVID and allergies at the same time.

“The overlap may even be more severe now because if it is not causing body aches, fatigue, or a sore throat, then you may be experiencing both symptoms,” Higgins said. “Telling the difference will be more difficult this year than previously with the delta variant.”

Megan Eades, a mother of two, said she has dealt with allergies her whole life. She said her main allergy symptoms have always been sneezing.

“I just start sneezing uncontrollably and that brings on the runny nose,” Eades said.

Eades said telling the difference between COVID and her allergy symptoms has not been easy.

”It goes through your head,” she said. “I am not gonna lie, I did a COVID test a couple of weeks ago, because it’s like, you do have some of those same symptoms.”

Loss of smell is a common symptom of COVID and allergies. If the loss is sudden, it could be the BA.2 variant, but if it is gradual, it is most likely allergies, according to Higgins. Furthermore, for the omicron variant, a sore throat and sinus symptoms that last longer than 7 days are common first symptoms.

”The flu hits us very, very hard,” Tailor said. “The flu makes us want to just lay down.”

The CDC lists the following as similar signs and symptoms between COVID and the FLU to watch out for:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/having chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Change in or loss of taste or smell, although this is more frequent with COVID-19.

For those with allergies, the easiest way to make sure symptoms are not COVID-related is to take an at-home test, Higgins said.

”Anything beyond the itchy eyes, the sneezing, the runny nose, those are going to be all allergy specific,” he said. “If it is other symptoms that the patient is having; that COVID test is going to come in handy to tell them whether or not they have that infection.”

Higgins said to make sure to take at-home COVID tests when having the most symptoms and be sure to do it two days in a row for the most reliable results.

Health experts also recommend getting vaccinated, washing hands, drinking water, exercising, getting enough sleep, and masking up when not feeling well in order to stay healthy this season.

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