Cough: Allergies or COVID-19 symptom?

A cough can cause anxiety these days. It can be easy to start you thinking the worst. And you only need to clear your throat in the grocery store to draw the attention of other patrons. But a cough is not always an illness.

Yes, allergies can also cause coughing. Along with the typical sneezing, congestion, itchy eyes and hives, allergens, especially hay fever allergens, can irritate the throat and lungs and cause us to cough. The allergen causes a post-nasal drip that travels down your throat, causing irritation that can lead to a persistent dry cough. It’s still something you should have checked out because a cough could also be a symptom of asthma.

“Allergies occur when the body sees a harmless substance, such as pollen or cat dander, as a threat,” said Robert Kocur, MD, allergist with OSF HealthCare. “In response, the immune system builds antibodies to fight off the threatening substance.”

Allergies are some of the most common chronic health conditions in the world and can affect anyone. Generally, allergies are more common in children but can happen at any age. Allergies may also go away and can come back after years of remission.

How can I tell if my cough is allergies?

While allergies can be life threatening, your typical seasonal allergies come and go with minor annoyance without being a threat to anyone else. But COVID-19 is a whole other story. The virus can spread easily and can be dangerous to specific at-risk populations.

“The differences can be subtle. While they all have similar symptoms, how those symptoms are experienced can usually tip you off,” Dr. Kocur said.

COVID-19 Symptoms Common Symptoms for Both Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
·  Diarrhea ·  Congestion or runny nose ·  Hives
·  Fever and chills ·  Cough ·  Itchy or watery eyes
·  Muscle and body aches ·  Fatigue ·  Sneezing
·  New loss of taste or smell ·  Headache
·  Nausea ·  Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
·  Vomiting ·  Sore throat

“COVID-19 will typically be severe for a few days, including multiple symptoms,” Dr. Kocur said. “With seasonal allergies, the symptoms tend to remain consistent for several weeks or as long as you are exposed to the irritant.”

Dr. Kocur said you can usually track your seasonal allergies from year to year as pollen or other irritants are released into the air. However, it is possible to develop a new allergy or encounter a new allergen at any age or time.

Is there an additional threat?

“We don’t have enough information to know whether having seasonal allergies puts you in a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, or if allergies can make contracting the virus worse,” Dr. Kocur said. “We do know that older adults and people with medical conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart or lung disease are at higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19.”

The best way to protect yourself and manage seasonal allergies is a relationship with your primary care provider and an allergist. An honest, open line of communication will help your doctor assess your situation and determine the best course of action to keep you and your family safe.

Last Updated: November 27, 2020

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About Author: David Pruitt

David Pruitt is a writer for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare. He has a bachelor’s of journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and worked as a reporter before joining OSF HealthCare in 2014.

An avid golfer and fisherman, David was born and raised Alton, Illinois, which is where he currently resides with his son, James.

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Categories: COVID-19, Lung & Respiratory Health