How to Tell If Your Symptoms Are From Allergies or Illness

There are many symptoms that clearly point to a serious illness. If you’re vomiting or running a high fever, there’s a good chance that you need to see a doctor and possibly get on some medication, as well.

Even so, there are other symptoms that tend to be a bit more confusing. Sneezing, sniffling, and an overall sense of fatigue can leave an individual “feeling crummy” without knowing if they’re actually sick. This is especially true during allergy season.

Here are a few thoughts on how to tell if you’re suffering from allergies or something more serious.

What Are Allergies?

If you want to tell the difference between an allergic reaction and an illness, it’s important to realize what is happening when you suffer from allergies in the first place. According to Mayo Clinic, allergies occur “when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance.” This reaction could be due to several different things, from pollen (think seasonal allergies) to pet dander, a bee sting, or even a certain kind of food.

Just to clarify, having a food allergy and a food intolerance are two very different things. On the one hand, a food intolerance comes from the inability of the digestive system to create enough enzymes to break down food in an effective manner. This causes discomfort but little danger.

On the other hand, a food allergy has the potential to be much more severe. It is an immune system response that can affect the entire body and can be very dangerous.

Whether it’s due to food, seasonal conditions, or anything else, when you have an allergic reaction, your immune system produces antibodies. These alert the body to invaders (even if, in the case of an allergy, they aren’t actually dangerous) and encourage the production of histamines. These chemicals are what create symptoms such as sneezing, runny noses, watery eyes, and general inflammation.

While allergies are often the root cause of these kinds of symptoms, though, there are times when something else is going on behind the scenes.

Conditions That Mimic Allergies

There are many conditions that mimic the symptoms of allergies.

For instance, a sore throat, officially referred to as “pharyngitis,” occurs when the throat becomes irritated. This can manifest through swelling, irritation, and a hoarse voice (or even the complete loss of one’s voice). This can lead to varying levels of pain when eating, drinking, talking, and swallowing.

A sore throat can accompany many different issues. One of these includes allergies, which produce more mucus, leading to post-nasal drip and throat irritation.

Sinus infections are also similar to allergies. Both impact the nasal passages, cause post-nasal drip, and can lead to things like headaches and difficulty breathing.

The common cold mimics many seasonal allergy symptoms, as well. Both conditions usually come with things like sneezing, runny noses, and itchy eyes.

HealthTap points out that there are even several overlapping symptoms between COVID-19 and allergies. Both conditions come with congestion, runny noses, sore throats, and a cough.

Suffice it to say, there are many more significant medical conditions that are easy to confuse with allergies. Sometimes these conditions are even caused by allergies — such as developing a sinus infection from ongoing allergic reactions. 

This adds another layer of complexity to the diagnosis. You may be able to deal with the issue in the short term by treating your symptoms as part of a cold or a sinus infection. But once everything’s cleared up, you may want to consult a professional about how you can keep the allergies from causing a relapse, as well.

Before you do that, though, you need to figure out if you’re dealing with allergies or something else.

How Can You Tell if You’re Dealing With Allergies?

There are many similarities between allergies and other sickness symptoms — but the lists aren’t identical. lists several distinct differences between allergies and something like a common cold:

  • Allergies have clear mucus, whereas dark-colored mucus is a sign of sickness.
  • Allergies come with a dry cough.
  • Allergies lead to itchiness and watery eyes, something that isn’t common with most illnesses.
  • Allergies don’t lead to fevers.

A few other key points to look for include how your symptoms impact your lifestyle. For instance, if you can get out of bed and start moving — and possibly even feel better once you do so — there’s a good chance you’re dealing with allergies. If your symptoms continue over a long period of time, that’s also a sign of allergies.

It’s also worth looking for additional symptoms (like loss of taste from COVID) that are never caused by allergies.

As you analyze your condition, remember to consult a doctor. Whether you reach out via a telehealth line for a quick chat or visit your local office, talking to a professional is always wise. They can help you analyze what you’ve discovered and confirm or deny your suspicions — as well as give you potential solutions.