Allergy Symptoms: What Are They & How to Treat Them?

By Irmanie Hemphill, MD, FAAFP
Medically reviewed
July 2, 2021

You wake up one morning with a headache, sore throat, and nasal congestion. You don’t feel well, but you aren’t sure how seriously you should take your symptoms. Are you suffering from seasonal allergies or something else? 

It can be hard to distinguish allergies from a common cold or another ailment, such as influenza (flu) or coronavirus (COVID-19), because all often make you feel miserable in similar ways.

For example, both colds and allergies can cause a runny nose or a sore throat, and both the flu and allergies can tire you out.

Since the symptoms of seasonal allergies and some viruses can be similar, it’s crucial to understand which you have.

Once you know that, you can effectively treat your symptoms and take the proper precautions to avoid spreading anything contagious to others. 

Wondering how to tell whether you suffer from seasonal allergies vs. cold symptoms?

Worried that you won’t be able to tell the difference when it comes to knowing if you have allergies vs. coronavirus?

In this article, I’ll cover the signs and symptoms of seasonal allergies and how to tell whether you are suffering from them or a nastier bug.

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What Are Seasonal Allergies?

When you have seasonal allergies, your immune system is highly sensitive to environmental substances that float in the air during certain times of the year.

Although usually harmless, these airborne particles can trigger your immune system to react as if it is under attack.

Your body produces antibodies to fight the “invaders”, and you end up experiencing nasal inflammation, throat irritation, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Seasonal allergies are widespread: Roughly 8% of adults in the United States report suffering from allergies, and that number is increasing.

Researchers believe both genetics and environment play a role in determining whether your body becomes allergic to airborne substances.

People who have parents or siblings with allergies are more likely to have seasonal allergies, as are those with regular exposure to air pollutants and other chemical substances.

For many people, allergies are inconvenient but not debilitating. These individuals treat mild symptoms with over-the-counter (OTC) medications and avoid extended exposure to environments where they might be triggered.

For others, seasonal allergies are more disruptive. Symptoms can be long-lasting and severe enough to be confused with other, more contagious diseases.

Symptoms

Seasonal allergies and contagious diseases like the common cold, the flu, and COVID-19 share many but not all symptoms.

By understanding the differences, you can more accurately assess your health and identify your treatment options.

Sore throat 

Sore throats are usually associated with common colds, the flu, COVID-19, and other ailments like strep throat and tonsillitis.

But can allergies cause sore throat?

Absolutely. Many people who suffer from seasonal allergies develop postnasal drip. That’s when excess mucus drains from your nasal cavities down your throat and causes irritation. 

If you have a sore throat, note your other symptoms to determine whether or not you are having an allergic reaction or have caught a bug along the way.

Fever

Can allergies cause fever? Although some refer to seasonal allergies as “hay fever”, the short answer is no.

If you have a fever, chances are you have caught the flu, COVID-19, or another contagious disease. 

Noting if you have a fever is one of the best ways to determine whether you are suffering from seasonal allergies or something else. 

Cough

When unaccompanied by other symptoms, coughs can indicate a lot of things. They can help you expel dust, dirt, food, mucus, and other particles that shouldn’t be in your lungs.

Cold and flu viruses can also cause you to cough, as can COVID-19. 

Can allergies cause a cough?

If your seasonal allergies have led you to develop postnasal drip, that can irritate the lining of your lungs, triggering a cough response, but this is less common.

Headache

A variety of things ranging from mild to more severe can cause headaches.

For example, when you have an infection like the common cold, the flu, or COVID-19, your immune system produces defensive molecules that cause inflammation and can trigger headaches in some people. 

Headaches are less common in people who have seasonal allergies—though they can happen when allergies trigger sinus pressure or nasal congestion.

Sneezing

Sneezing a lot is a good sign that you are suffering from seasonal allergies.

When you breathe in something that triggers an immune response, the mucus membranes in your nose become inflamed, leading to congestion, discharge, and, yes, lots of sneezing. 

If you are sneezing, note your other symptoms to determine whether you have allergies or the common cold. The flu and COVID-19 rarely cause frequent sneezing.

Fatigue

Can allergies make you tired?

Yes. Having an allergic reaction triggers inflammation, which in turn can make it hard for you to get restful, uninterrupted sleep. Some allergy medicines can also make you feel tired or fatigued

If you are feeling tired, pay attention to your other symptoms. It could be a sign that you have seasonal allergies or are sick with something that’s contagious.

Itchy eyes

Itchy or watery eyes can be bothersome, uncomfortable, and inconvenient.

They’re also a big sign that you are probably dealing with seasonal allergies. When your immune system launches a response to an allergen, it releases a compound that causes inflammation throughout your body.

The cells in your eyes become inflamed, causing redness, irritation, and itch.

Muscle aches or joint pain

If you have muscle aches or joint pain, you are not suffering from a seasonal allergy.

Body discomfort, painful muscles, and tender joints are common complaints among patients who have a cold, COVID-19, and, particularly, the flu. 

Diarrhea

Seasonal allergies do not commonly affect the gastrointestinal tract, so if you have gas, bloating, constipation, stomach ache, or diarrhea, you are probably suffering from something else.

Patients with COVID-19 and the flu are much more likely to have episodes of diarrhea than people with seasonal allergies.

Duration (time)

For most healthy people, contagious illnesses like the common cold and flu last between 1-2 weeks. COVID-19 can last anywhere from 2-6 weeks depending on the severity of the infection.

By contrast, people with seasonal allergies often experience symptoms for as long as they are exposed to the allergen triggering them.

If your symptoms feel long-lasting or occur around the same time every year, that’s a sign that you are dealing with seasonal allergies. 

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How to Treat Allergies

People can develop new or more severe seasonal allergies at any age. If you believe you might be suffering from seasonal allergies and have mild symptoms, you can take steps to make yourself more comfortable. 

  • Avoid outdoor triggers: Stay away from environments where your triggers might be present. Stay indoors with your windows closed on days with high pollen counts and wear a mask when working outside.
  • Control what you can: Keep your pets regularly groomed and your home clean to avoid pet dander and dust mites. Fight mold by cleaning surfaces and repairing leaky roofs and pipes.
  • Take medication: OTC oral antihistamine tablets like cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), and loratadine (Claritin) can help control and treat your symptoms. Nasal sprays and other treatment options are available by prescription.

If you have health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, glaucoma, high blood pressure, liver disease, or kidney disease, talk to your doctor before taking any OTC medications for seasonal allergies. Certain decongestant medications can interact with prescription drugs or raise your blood pressure and heart rate too high. 

When to See a Doctor

Seasonal allergies are common, but you don’t have to live with discomfort. If you suffer from symptoms that last for more than six weeks, occur regularly, or are severe enough to impede your ability to sleep, work, or function normally, call your doctor. 

If you believe you have developed symptoms related to COVID-19 or if you have contracted the flu and have chronic health conditions or are older than 65, contact your doctor. They will have information and resources to help you manage your illness and put you on the road to recovery.

Get an Allergies Treatment Today with K Health

K Health provides a simple, accessible option for allergies treatment. Chat with a doctor on your phone to determine whether you indeed have allergies, and get a prescription sent straight to your pharmacy, all for just $23.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can allergies cause a sore throat?
Sore throats most often indicate the common cold, the flu, COVID-19, or other ailments. However, seasonal allergies can lead to postnasal drip, which in turn can irritate and inflame the lining of the throat and cause soreness.
Can allergies make you tired?
Seasonal allergies can make it hard to get restful, uninterrupted sleep. Some allergy medicines can also make you tired or fatigued.
Can allergies cause a cough?
If your seasonal allergies have led you to develop postnasal drip, that can irritate the lining of your lungs, triggering a cough response, but this is less common. A cough is more common with a cold or flu virus, or COVID-19.
Can allergies cause a fever?
Although some refer to them as “hay fever”, seasonal allergies do not cause a fever. If you have a fever, chances are you have the flu, COVID-19, or another contagious disease.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Irmanie Hemphill, MD, FAAFP

Dr. Hemphill is an award winning primary care physician with an MD from Florida State University College of Medicine. She completed her residency at Halifax Medical Center.