Fall allergies or COVID-19? Here's the difference between symptoms

Fall allergy season, combined with the worry of contracting COVID-19 amid the ongoing pandemic, may have some people anxious the minute they begin experiencing a cough, runny nose or headache.

Unfortunately, allergy symptoms can often mimic those of the novel coronavirus, and it may be difficult to tell the difference between the two, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

RELATED: Could your symptoms be COVID-19? The signs range from mild to severe

The agency lists cough, fatigue, headache, sore throat, and congestion or a runny nose as common symptoms for both. 

But according to Dr. Sandra Hong, an allergist at Cleveland Clinic, there are a couple of significant signs that it might be COVID-19, and not allergies.

“With coronavirus symptoms, very frequently, they’ll come on with fevers. If you have a fever, it’s not going to be allergies,” Hong said. “If you have diarrhea, that’s also not allergies. That’s something completely different.”

Hong added that if your eyes, nose, threat and ears are itchy, it’s likely allergies. The same applies for those who experience the same symptoms each year around the same time.

“Typically with coronavirus, the symptoms will last for a couple weeks,” Hong said. “They can sometimes be lingering, but typically not like allergies where they can be months on end, a whole season.”

In the fall, ragweed is the biggest allergy trigger, according to WebMD.

While COVID-19 can lead to a wide variety of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, the most common symptoms are fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches and new loss of taste or smell. Seasonal allergies do not usually cause difficulty breathing, unless a person has asthma or another a respiratory condition triggered by exposure to pollen, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends wearing masks to slow the spread of COVID-19, and says they also offer some protection against seasonal allergies by preventing some larger particles from being inhaled. 

“However, if you have seasonal allergies, masks should not be your only protection against pollen exposure because smaller particles can still get through the covering and be inhaled,” the CDC says on its website (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-seasonal-allergies-faqs.html). “Wash your masks after each use, particularly if you suffer from seasonal allergies, because the covering may carry particles such as pollen.”

While older adults and those with severe underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19, it remains unclear whether having seasonal allergies puts one at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or having more severe symptoms, the agency said.

The CDC said individuals can have symptoms of both COVID-19 and seasonal allergies at the same time, and anyone with concerns should contact their health care provider.

RELATED: CDC says most people with COVID-19 should isolate for 10 days, rather than 14

This story was reported from Cincinnati.