How to tell the difference between a virus and a fall allergy

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If you get a sniffle or a scratchy throat, you could conclude that you’re sick – and since the pandemic started, there’s plenty of reason to worry about that. Fall and winter usually set in cold and flu season, but something else could be to blame for your symptoms: You could have fall allergies and not even know it.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Fall Allergies?

You probably know that the pollen around you can be an allergy trigger, but fall triggers are often overlooked. Dr. Jeanne Lomas, director of allergy services at WellNow allergysay to be some of the more surprising – but normalfall allergy triggers:

  • Weeds such as ragweed, which Lomas said “are the most common triggers for fall allergies in most of the US”
  • Fungi that accumulate on wet leaves
  • Stinging insects such as yellow jackets or wasps
  • Indoor allergens, such as animal dander and dust mites, that you may not have noticed during the warmer months if you spent more time outside

Lomas recommends taking extra precautions when working outdoors in the fall, as stinging insects become more active in late summer and early fall, are most aggressive in August, September, and October, and can cause severe allergic reactions.

She also said that prior to the pandemic, before people started wearing masks more often, allergists noticed something they called the “September peak.” That referred to an increase in disease, but also rising levels of pollens such as ragweed. According to air purifier manufacturer AprilAirefall allergies can pop up during what’s known as “second summer,” or fall when temperatures are unseasonably warm, as the temperatures keep pollen circulating.

How do you know if you are sick or have allergies?

As Lomas noted, “There are a lot of symptoms that overlap between allergies and infections,” so it can be challenging to figure out what’s going on. For example, sneezing can occur with both, but eye symptoms, such as redness and swelling, especially when they occur along with itching, are much more common with allergies. Any kind of itching is actually more of a sign of allergies. That includes itchy eyes, as well as itchy ears and nose – and you don’t have to have all three.

On the other hand, she said, if you have a fever or “flu-like” symptoms, such as body aches, you may have a viral illness, such as the flu or COVID-19. A sore throat is one of those symptoms that can occur with illnesses or allergies, but it is Lake often if you have an infection such as strep throat or a virus. If you have asthma, wheezing can also be a sign of illness or allergies.

“If you’ve had recent contact with someone who was sick, you should suspect an infection and not allergies,” she said, adding that allergies are not contagious. If you’re not sure, see a doctor.

What to do with seasonal fall allergies

Treatments are very effective, Lomas said, and you may be able to manage with over-the-counter remedies once you suspect or identify fall triggers as the cause of your symptoms. However, if your symptoms continue to bother you, consider seeing an allergist, who can provide more treatment and testing to identify specific triggers.

You may be offered immunotherapy, which reduces your sensitivity to allergens over time by giving you controlled doses, either as an injection or as a tablet under your tongue.

How to tell the difference between a virus and a fall allergy

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