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COVID or allergies? Health experts weigh in

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With allergy season in full swing, health experts describe the difference between COVID and allergies and when you should get tested.

Spring allergy season has arrived in the Northwest, and all that sniffling and sneezing has many people wondering how to tell the difference between symptoms of allergies, COVID-19 or even a common cold, as many of the symptoms overlap.

Dr. Mark Chan, allergy and immunology specialist with Kaiser Permanente in Portland said key symptoms of the prevalent BA.2 omicron subvariant are more similar to allergies than previous variants.

“For example, runny nose and sore throat are common with the COVID-19 BA2 variant and with allergies,” Chan said.

But there are several symptoms more closely associated with COVID that you can watch for.

Fever, muscle pain, chills, diarrhea and complete congestion with loss of smell, is more indicative of COVID than allergies.

“Itchy, watery eyes; itchy, runny nose, and sneezing are common allergy symptoms, and that itch is usually not as prominent in COVID,” Chan said.

He added that while people can experience loss of taste with allergies, one of the telltale symptoms of COVID is fever, which is a unique COVID symptom outside of allergies. Chan said there is a public health step that can help whether you’re experiencing allergies or concerned about COVID-19: Wearing a mask will help prevent allergies and reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19 at the same time.

If people are unsure of whether symptoms are allergies or COVID, public health officials are reminding residents that testing for COVID-19 infection remains an important action to help prevent the spread of the respiratory disease.

“Those who are at high risk should be tested as soon as they realize they are unwell because the treatments work best when given early,” said Dr. Barbra Villona, Josephine County Public Health deputy health officer. “Those who are at high risk or who are not yet vaccinated should be tested as soon as possible, as treatments are available.”

Josephine County Public Health encourages testing for those who have been, or suspect they may have been, exposed to someone with COVID-19. Public health officials recommend that vaccinated individuals be tested five days after their exposure to a possible case; those who are not yet vaccinated should be tested as soon as they learn of their exposure and again five days after their exposure.

Those who test positive for COVID-19 are asked to isolate themselves to protect others. Health officials advise people who test negative but are symptomatic to continue to wear a face mask, wash their hands frequently and stay away from others until their symptoms improve or they are outside the exposure window of concern.

Positive results can be reported online through the Oregon Health Authority. Reporting assists state epidemiologists and can help individuals connect with treatments and other services.

OHA wants to remind the public that they can still order up to eight free at-home tests per household from covidtests.gov. For people with insurance, most plans are covering eight at-home tests per month.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Alex Hasenstab