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Is It COVID-19 or Allergies?

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Written By: Kierstan Boyd
Reviewed By: J Kevin McKinney MD
Apr. 14, 2020


In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, your spring allergies may be adding to your anxiety about your health. Are those watery eyes and stuffy nose symptoms of the new coronavirus or allergies?

“This time of year is a challenge for people with allergies, and now more so with COVID fears,” says James M. Huffman, MD, an ophthalmologist in central Kentucky. “Symptoms in people infected with coronavirus can differ from person to person based on their illness. Having that varying information out there can be confusing if you’re not sure what you should be looking for.”

Should I worry about my itchy, watery eyes?

One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between allergy and coronavirus symptoms is to check your eyes. If they are red, watery and itchy, these are probably signs of allergies. Coronavirus symptoms generally do not cause those uncomfortable itchy, watery eyes.

“Another key difference between seasonal allergy symptoms and coronavirus symptoms is having a fever,” explains Dr. Huffman. “Allergy sufferers do not have fever as a symptom, while coronavirus patients often do.”

What’s the connection between pink eye, allergies and coronavirus?

There are some reports that people with coronavirus may develop pink eye (conjunctivitis). Their symptoms look just like any typical conjunctivitis symptoms. But allergies can also cause the same eye symptoms—including the redness and itchiness. So how can you tell the difference?

Allergic conjunctivitis usually affects both eyes with itching, burning and redness. They may feel gritty like something is in the eye, and there may be some puffiness around the eyes. You will probably also have other allergy symptoms like a runny nose and sneezing. Another thing to note with allergic conjunctivitis is that you have it each year around the same time.

Unlike allergic conjunctivitis, viral conjunctivitis is generally an isolated incident. It also causes burning, red eyes, but there is usually a watery discharge as well (which may feel slightly thicker and stickier than tears).

Doctors would be concerned about the possibility of coronavirus if you have conjunctivitis symptoms along with:

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • bluish color to lips or face
  • chest pain or pressure
  • being extremely tired or feeling like you will collapse if you stand up
  • loss of smell/taste
  • feeling a new sense of confusion

Other possible coronavirus symptoms you won’t find with allergies include diarrhea and nausea.

If you aren’t sure about your eye symptoms …

First of all, don’t panic. If your eye allergy symptoms are not accompanied by the main symptoms of coronavirus (fever, serious breathing issues, cough, and others listed above), try treating your allergy symptoms as you usually do. If you have conjunctivitis symptoms without coronavirus symptoms, try these tips for relief. If you are still concerned about your eye symptoms, call your ophthalmologist.

If your eye allergy symptoms do include any of the coronavirus symptoms mentioned above, call your healthcare provider right away for medical advice—especially if you have breathing issues, chest pain or pressure, or fever.

Finally, remember these very important steps for taking care of your eyes and yourself: wash your hands often and properly, and avoid touching your eyes or your face.

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