How to tell the difference between symptoms of allergies and COVID-19

Allergy Awareness Week 2021 runs from Monday 26 April to Friday 30 April.  This year’s focus is on hay fever, and some of the symptoms of hay fever – such as a loss of smell, and coughing, are the same as COVID-19 symptoms, so it is important to be able to distinguish between common allergies and COVID-19 symptoms.

Allergies are caused by the immune system overreacting to different particles in the environment,  such as pollen, dust, mould, or saliva, urine, or shed skin particles from pets. Allergies are not contagious.  COVID-19, however, is a viral illness that is spread through droplets via coughing, sneezing, and close personal contact.

To help distinguish between allergies and COVID-19 infection, please consider the following:

  • Timeline and previous history with allergies:

– Often people with allergies have a history of seasonal allergies.

– Allergy symptoms also tend to be longer-lasting compared to viral symptoms.

  • Allergy symptoms often respond to allergy medications, whereas COVID-19 will not.
  • Allergies typically make people itchy, which is not a symptom of viral illness.
  • Patients with allergies do not develop a fever. However, fever is a very common symptom of COVID-19.
  • Patients with allergies may also have asthma, which can cause coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and wheezing. COVID-19 does not typically cause wheezing.

For more information on Allergy Awareness Week 2021, including resources, information and advice, please visit  Further information on hay fever season in the UK can be found on the Met Office’s website, and the NHS has information about identifying and treating hay fever on its website.

If in doubt, and you have any of the main symptoms of COVID-19: a high temperature, new persistent cough, or loss or change to your sense of taste or smell, please self-isolate immediately and book a COVID-19 PCR test.

Further references: Leeds NHS Clinical Commissioning Group 

Xenia Koumi

Xenia is a Public Health Specialist at the City of London Corporation and leads the Business Healthy programme