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Allergies or COVID-19: Pharmasave Explains How to Tell the Difference?

May 13, 2020

There’s nothing unusual about suffering from seasonal allergies this time of year. That is, there never used to be – until COVID-19 came along.

Now, what’s making this allergy season out-of-the-ordinary is that some allergy symptoms overlap with symptoms of COVID-19.

The Public Health Agency of Canada lists cough, fever and difficulty breathing among the most common symptoms of the coronavirus. Symptoms can also include sore throat, tiredness, headache, chills, aches and pains, and decreased sense of smell, among others.

Meanwhile, people experiencing common seasonal allergy can have similar symptoms.

So, how can you tell the difference, and when should you consult a healthcare professional?

“Because allergies and COVID-19 can present in similar ways, it’s a good idea to have the facts and be extra cautious to make sure what you’re experiencing is nothing more than allergies,” said Allison Nourse, registered pharmacist and Pharmasave’s National Director of Pharmacy Innovation.

According to Pharmasave, here are key differentiating factors between seasonal allergies and COVID-19:

Fever: A fever, and associated symptoms such as chills, are not usually typical of seasonal allergies, so may point to an infection.

Itchiness: If your eyes, nose or throat are feeling itchy, especially after you’ve been outside, chances are you’re experiencing seasonal allergies.

Nasal congestion: Common among seasonal allergy sufferers, nasal congestion is not a typical symptom of COVID-19, even among those who report decreased sense of smell.

Sneezing: Another common seasonal allergy symptom, sneezing is generally not associated with the coronavirus.

“Because every case is different, it’s important to speak to a healthcare professional if you’re unsure about your diagnosis, and your pharmacist is a good place to start,” Nourse said, adding that pharmacists can also offer advice and treatment to curb seasonal allergies.

Pharmasave has also launched a one-stop COVID-19 information portal at, where the public can find all the information they need about COVID-19, including links to COVID-19 self-assessment tools that can help you assess if you’re experiencing symptoms of coronavirus or potentially seasonal allergies.

Some Common Questions Answered About Allergies and COVID-19 Symptoms

How bad are allergy symptoms this year?
Depending on where you live, allergy season could be just beginning or could be out in full force. People should make sure they are prepared with the medications that they typically take to manage their symptoms. The best way is prevention. Ensuring you have the medication before you are exposed to the allergens which trigger your condition. Additionally, avoiding exposure to allergens is always important with any allergy. Limiting time outside when pollen counts are high is beneficial.

Are worries heightened about having allergy symptoms?
People with allergies typically experience symptoms of sneezing, stuffy/runny nose, itchy eyes/ears/mouth/nose, red and watery eyes, during this time of year. For some people, it can affect their ability to function and enjoy outdoor activities where they are exposed. With people staying more at home due to COVID19, this may mean a situation where people may be experiencing less symptoms due to less exposure. As the temperature increases outside, and people choose to keep their windows open, exposure to allergens will still be possible.

Allergy suffers may worry their symptoms are similar to that of the common cold or COVID, making it difficult to distinguish. According to the World Health Organization, the most common symptoms of COVID are fever, tiredness and dry cough. Pollen allergy does not generally present with a fever. In all cases, if you are not sure, speak to your pharmacist or physician.

Click here for a table comparing symptoms of cold, flu, allergies and COVID-19

Sneeze and everyone takes cover. There’s a bit of sneeze shaming going on…
People are definitely more aware and sensitive to others around them who appear sick as a result of COVID19. People with allergy symptoms can appear to be sick and may have some symptoms which may appear to be similar to COVID19. Not everyone is always aware of which symptoms are which, so there can be a generalization. It’s important to know that there are many other viruses, bacteria, and other conditions such as allergies, which would present with respiratory symptoms, and that not everything is COVID19 related. People who have symptoms, as a result of any condition, should still follow the same recommendations however – the etiquette of sneezing and coughing into your sleeve, washing hands with soap and water often or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth should always be followed. It is also important to note, based on current evidence, sneezing, runny/stuffed nose, itchy/watery eyes, although possible with COVID-19, are seen infrequently.

Is sneezing a COVID-19 symptom?
COVID19 is very new and health care agencies and professionals are continually collecting data and information regarding symptoms. And these symptoms have evolved over the past number of months with more information and experience with patients. At the current time, while cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny nose, and others are identified symptoms, sneezing is not a currently identified symptom of COVID19. It’s a very challenging infection, and the symptoms that are presented can vary significantly from one person to another. Sneezing is a common symptom for those with allergies. Additionally, allergy suffers also typically present with other symptoms including itchy eyes and a stuffy nose, which are also currently considered uncommon in COVID-19 infection. Patients with allergy symptoms will generally respond to antihistamines for symptom management.

Advice for sufferers enduring allergies during COVID-19?
Make sure you have your medications as advised by your health care practitioner or pharmacist, and take them BEFORE you are exposed to your allergy triggers. Avoidance is key. There are many actions you can take in your life to help decrease your exposure to pollen. If you find that your allergy symptoms are still a problem, speak to your pharmacist. There are many options available without a prescription, as well as some which can be recommended and prescribed by your doctor. Due to COVID19, it would be best if you call your pharmacist first, as policies in pharmacies to protect the staff and customers are currently in place.


About Pharmasave:
With more than 700 stores across the country, Pharmasave is one of Canada’s leading independent community pharmacies. Since being founded in 1981, Pharmasave has focused on building a national platform of community-based retail outlets designed to provide exceptional patient-centred healthcare, medication advice, drug store products and customer service. MedAlign@Pharmasave is a collection of services that help patients manage their medications more effectively, increases patient adherence and improves health outcomes. Through MedAlign@Pharmasave, pharmacists provide medication reviews and medication synchronization, assisting patients by aligning their refills to come due on the same day. Pharmasave continues to differentiate itself through leading-edge digital solutions. Patients can access everyday tools to manage their health in ways that are simple to set up and easy to maintain with eCare@Pharmasave. This suite of interactive solutions enables patients to engage digitally with their pharmacy and empowers them with mobile refills, medication reminders and so much more.

Each Pharmasave store operates independently to serve its individual community, tailoring both programs and services to the unique needs of customers and reinforcing the commitment to help all customers live well with Pharmasave.

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