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“Am I sick or is this my allergies?" A discussion on Allergies Vs Viral Illness


As allergy season quickly approaches, the Allergy & Immunology Specialists at Crystal Run Healthcare want to give you the tools you need to manage your allergies and help determine when symptoms are allergy or illness-related.

Life this past year, living through a global pandemic, has been very challenging for everyone.   For the millions of people who suffer from allergies, the challenges have been even greater. With heads turning at every cough, sneeze and sniffle, allergy sufferers often find themselves in a dilemma trying to determine if they are sick or if it’s just their seasonal allergies. 

Similar Symptoms Can Cause Confusion

Symptoms experienced with seasonal allergies and viral illnesses are similar, but there are important differences that can help determine the cause of what you’re experiencing.   The severity of symptoms with both conditions can vary from person to person and range from mild to severe.

Allergies are caused by an immune response that is triggered by many different irritants. Common allergy triggers include dust, mold, pollen, and animal dander.  Exposure to the allergen causes a sudden onset of symptoms.  Symptoms include nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes and typically respond well to allergy medications like antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays. For those who don’t find success with traditional allergy medications, there’s the option for allergy shots. While onset happens quickly, symptoms can last for weeks and even months at a time.  Allergies are not contagious and most people have a seasonal pattern of symptoms in past years.  Upper respiratory illnesses like the common cold, flu and COVID-19 are caused by viruses and are contagious.  Exposure to infectious respiratory droplets can typically cause symptoms to develop in 2-14 days. Symptoms of a viral illness can include nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, cough, headache, fatigue and muscle aches. COVID-19 has a unique set of symptoms that can also include shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, and high fever. A viral illness usually lasts 7-10 days and is treated symptomatically with over the counter cold medications, rest and hydration. In severe cases patients may need to seek medical attention. Based on the contagious nature of COVID-19, it’s important to speak with your doctor to determine if testing is right for you, especially if you don’t have a history of allergies, but are experiencing even mild allergy-like symptoms.

Speak with an Allergy & Immunology Specialist 

If you frequently experience symptoms of seasonal allergies or if your symptoms are not improving with over the counter allergy medications, you should make an appointment to consult with an allergist.  An allergist will perform skin testing for environmental allergens to help you identify your allergy triggers.  Once you are aware of what is causing your seasonal allergies you can be better prepared to treat your symptoms.  If you have asthma, allergies and viral illnesses can cause a flare up. Identifying and avoiding your allergens can help you to have better control of your asthma symptoms as well.  

At times, it can be hard to determine if your symptoms are related to allergies or illness, which is why it’s best to consult with a doctor.  An allergy diagnosis will help you avoid known allergy triggers and be more confident when trying to answer the question of “Am I sick or is this my allergies?”

Amy DiMase PA-C, is an Allergy & Immunology Physician Assistant at Crystal Run Healthcare. She completed her Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA. She is a Board Certified Physician Assistant and her clinical interests include allergy testing and food allergies. Amy is seeing patients in Middletown and through Telehealth appointments.