Odds are, over the past two years, you’ve woken up at least one morning with a scratchy throat and clogged sinuses, and your first thought was: Is it allergies? Or is it COVID? The frustration of this ambiguity lies in the completely disproportionate amount of stakes in each scenario. A positive COVID-19 test will torpedo your week (or more) and potentially affect anyone you’ve spent time with in person; a case of allergies likely just means some discomfort.
Either scenario seems equally possible, too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 60 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies. On top of that, an estimated 81.5 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19 (with experts believing the true number is much higher).
That’s why the CDC created this handy little comparison chart to help you assess whether what you’re experiencing is run-of-the-mill seasonal allergies, or a case of COVID-19.
The overlapping symptoms of COVID and seasonal allergies
The CDC tells us that there are quite a few overlapping symptoms between allergies and COVID: coughing, headaches, tiredness, sore throat, sneezing, and a runny or stuffy nose. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, testing positive for COVID is not off of the table, but is by no means a guarantee. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, do take a COVID test, but you don’t have to cancel your weekend plans just yet.
COVID-specific symptoms vs. allergy-specific symptoms
There are four main symptoms specific to COVID that you will not experience with allergies, the CDC says: fever or chills, body aches, loss of taste or smell, and shortness of breath. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you probably can’t pawn it off as allergies. Take a COVID test, and prepare to hunker down.
On the flip side, there’s one main symptom specific to allergies that you won’t experience with COVID: itchy or watery eyes. If you’re experiencing that, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take a COVID test, that’s not likely to be the cause.
How to get free COVID-19 tests
Because the symptoms are so similar, it can’t hurt to have a few COVID tests on hand at home. Here’s your reminder that every household in the United States can request up to eight free COVID tests from the U.S. government. Here’s how to request your share.
Additionally, the White House is requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of an additional handful of at-home COVID-19 tests:
Beginning January 15, 2022, individuals with private health insurance coverage or covered by a group health plan who purchase an over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic test authorized, cleared, or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be able to have those test costs covered by their plan or insurance. Insurance companies and health plans are required to cover 8 free over-the-counter at-home tests per covered individual per month.