Dr. Menachof, MD, has specialized in conditions around the head, throat, ear, nose, neck and face for over 20 years, and was the first to bring sublingual allergy drops to Colorado in 2005. He has been recognized as a Fellow by multiple academies, named one of America’s Top Facial Plastic Surgeons continually since 2003 and is featured in multiple national publications.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every person in one way or another. Many people are concerned for their health in the face of COVID-19 and scientists are still learning about the behavior of this novel disease. The virus spreads rapidly and is most frequently contracted by breathing or absorbing tiny water droplets containing the virus through the nose and mouth.
While COVID-19 has been primarily categorized as a respiratory disease, the virus can present itself in ways that appear similar to symptoms of allergies, sinus issues, or a common cold. Despite similarities in certain symptoms, there are important differences between COVID-19 symptoms vs allergies vs sinus symptoms that can help patients determine which may be causing their discomfort.
Please note: This blog is not intended as medical advice or instruction. Anyone experiencing possible COVID symptoms should contact their doctor or medical professional to discuss symptoms and testing.
Symptoms of Coronavirus
Scientists are still learning and understanding new things about COVID-19 every day. Confirmed cases of the disease have ranged from a-symptomatic, to mild symptoms, to severe illness and death. Coronavirus is spread most frequently through coughing, sneezing, and close personal contact. Symptoms can appear anywhere from 2-14 days after exposure, and can vary in severity. It is also possible to have COVID-19 and experience few or no symptoms at all.
Common symptoms of coronavirus include:
- shortness of breath
- loss or change to smell or taste
- sore throat
Less common symptoms of coronavirus include:
- Muscle or body aches
- Congestion or runny nose
- Severe chest-tightness or breathing problems
- Nausea or vomiting
It is important to consider that you may still contract and spread the virus even if you do not experience any or all of the symptoms on this list. Washing your hands frequently and avoiding close contact can help avoid the spread of the virus.
Symptoms of Allergies
The body experiences allergy symptoms as a reaction to certain irritants (allergens) that can cause the release of histamines. These histamines are what cause inflammation and itching, leading to the stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and swelling that are common allergy symptoms.
Symptoms of allergies can include:
- runny or stuffy nose
- watery and itchy eyes
- itchy sinuses, throat, or ear canals
- ear congestion
- postnasal drainage
- shortness of breath
- rash or skin irritation
- sore throat
Symptoms of Sinus Issues
Symptoms of sinus infections and other sinus issues can be mistaken for COVID-19 symptoms as well. When suffering from sinusitis, patients will often experience inflammation, pressure, and mild pain that result from irritation in the sinus cavities. This can also cause other nasal symptoms like congestion and post-nasal drip.
Sinus issues other than sinus infections may also be responsible for or contributing to symptoms. Issues such as nasal polyps, enlarged turbinates, and deviated septum can also cause irritation leading to swelling, congestion, and discomfort, and can be confused with sinusitis, allergies or even coronavirus symptoms. However, an ENT expert will be able to quickly determine if sinus issues are the cause of your symptoms.
Symptoms of sinusitis and other sinus issues include:
- nasal congestion
- post-nasal drainage
- sinus pressure
- sore throat
- difficulty sleeping
People with chronic sinusitis usually experience more than one of these symptoms for an extended period of time.
Differences Between Symptoms of Allergies, Sinus Issues and COVID-19
The COVID-19 virus is a contagious disease, whereas allergies and sinus issues are developed uniquely in each person and cannot spread to others. Allergies are caused by a reactionary response from the immune system, while sinusitis is usually caused by improper airflow or drainage.
There is some overlap between symptoms of allergies, sinus issues, and COVID-19, but each one is more likely to present through certain symptoms than others. The coronavirus is also primarily a respiratory disease, with symptoms often affecting the lungs, while most allergy and sinus issues primarily affect the nasal airways.
There are several key differences that can help patients distinguish COVID-19 symptoms from allergies or sinus issues:
Neither allergies or sinus issues typically cause a fever, so this is a telltale sign that symptoms are related to another problem such as a virus. Patients experiencing chills and mild or severe fever should consider being tested for COVID-19, especially if the fever develops in tandem with other coronavirus symptoms such as a cough, tight chest, and fatigue.
Loss of Taste or Smell
While allergies and sinus infections often cause congestion, which can affect taste or smell, the COVID-19 virus has been strongly associated with patients experiencing symptoms of total loss or sudden change in smell or taste. This symptom has been experienced even by those who had no other obvious symptoms.
COVID-19 doesn’t usually cause any itching, since itchy eyes, nose, throat, etc. are usually the result of histamines being released in the body to combat an allergen. The location and intensity of itching will depend on the person and the allergen, but itching accompanied with any stuffy or runny nose symptoms will typically be caused by allergies, not a virus.
Congestion caused by COVID-19 is uncommon, though it happens occasionally, and rarely does the virus cause nasal issues like sneezing. Only 5% of people with COVID-19 develop symptoms in the nose, while allergy patients very frequently experience symptoms of a stuffy or runny nose accompanied with sneezing.
While sneezing is not usually a symptom of coronavirus, it is a very common way of spreading the virus. It is important to cover your nose and mouth when sneezing, and then wash your hands immediately, to help keep the virus from spreading.
Similarities Between Allergy, Sinus and COVID-19 Symptoms
The similarities between symptoms of allergies, sinusitis, and COVID-19 can easily cause concern, especially if a patient is experiencing just one or two symptoms on the list of overlap. Certain links do exist between symptoms, but slight nuances between the type and likelihood of symptoms can help determine which cause is most likely.
Symptoms that can appear with allergies, sinus issues, or coronavirus include:
- shortness of breath
- sore throat
- dry cough
If a person is only experiencing symptoms in the list above, it can be tougher to determine what is causing them. Patients should consider the activities taking place before the start of their symptoms and whether anything worsened the symptoms, such as pollen, pets, sleeping, or physical activity. If allergies are suspected as the cause, try taking allergy medications such as antihistamines, to see whether this relieves the symptoms.
Keep in mind that allergies or sinus issues and COVID-19 can exist at the same time. You may still want to see a doctor and be tested for coronavirus if you are experiencing any of the symptoms that indicate a virus is likely, such as fever combined with cough, or if your symptoms are more severe than your normal allergy symptoms.
If the source of symptoms is still unclear, or if you may have been exposed to the virus, it is recommended to get tested for COVID-19.
Table of Symptoms
This table helps break down the frequency of each symptom as it typically presents for allergies, sinusitis, or a potential virus.
Get Help and Find Resources
If you’re experiencing symptoms and are concerned about the cause, it is important to contact your doctor or medical professional. Medical professionals have the most up-to-date information on the virus and will be able to walk through your symptoms and activities to help decide if you should be tested or treated. The CDC has also developed a helpful Self-Checker Quiz to help you understand your symptoms and determine any potential coronavirus exposure or need for testing.
Advanced ENT & Allergy is here to help patients in the Denver area suffering from allergy or sinus symptoms. We’ll determine the cause of your discomfort, address any concerns you have for your health, and get you back to breathing well and living well. And we’re happy to answer any questions about COVID symptoms vs. allergies vs. sinus issues at any time!
If you are concerned about sinus or allergy symptoms, meet with an experienced ENT specialist to get to the root of the issue and find the best solution for your frustrating symptoms.