Seasonal Allergies vs. COVID-19 Symptoms in Kids—What to Watch Out For

mother sitting next to child blowing her nose

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Key Takeaways

  • With symptoms like coughing and congestion, seasonal allergies can present similarly to COVID-19, especially in kids.
  • Knowing the difference between these two conditions is key to determining whether your kid can attend school, or if you should worry about their health.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we’ve struggled to determine whether or not it’s to blame whenever our kids display symptoms of illness. That can be difficult to do since many childhood illnesses have similar symptoms. Now, as spring arrives and everything is bursting into bloom, there’s yet another condition to consider: seasonal allergies

With the pandemic still dragging on, it’s easy to panic when your child starts coughing, sneezing, or feeling generally under the weather. Due to the widespread nature of the COVID-19 virus, how could your mind not immediately assume the worst? Are they contagious? Should you keep them home from school, or is it okay to have them attend?

Luckily, it's possible to identify the differences between these two now-common maladies. Here's how:

Similar Symptoms, Different Illnesses

It’s true that COVID-19 and allergies can share many of the same symptoms. But there are a few key ways to tell them apart, although it’s always best to consult your child’s doctor if you’re feeling at all unsure.

“The symptoms of COVID-19 and allergies can certainly overlap, especially in children, as they don't tend to get as severely ill with the virus,” says Chad Sanborn, MD, infectious disease specialist with Kidz Medical Service. “Both seasonal allergies and COVID-19 can cause nasal congestion, coughing, and occasional wheezing with shortness of breath.”

Chad Sanborn, MD

The symptoms of COVID-19 and allergies can certainly overlap, especially in children, as they don't tend to get as severely ill with the virus.

— Chad Sanborn, MD

But what you shouldn’t see with seasonal allergies is fever. “Seasonal allergies should not be a cause of fever,” says Sanborn. “That’s a symptom that should warrant keeping a child home from school or other activities.” 

Symptoms of Allergies

Most allergy sufferers deal with sneezing, coughing and red, itchy eyes. With more severe allergies, you may notice your child wheezing on occasion. Wheezing is a high-pitched noise that indicates a certain level of airway constriction.

But despite how miserable allergies can be, your child probably won't have an extremely sore throat or body aches. Those symptoms are often an indication of illness rather than allergies. 

Symptoms of COVID-19

While many kids who have been infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, those who do experience symptoms are likely to have a fever, body aches, and even gastrointestinal symptoms, says Sanborn.

To help make it easier to determine whether your child may be suffering from seasonal allergies or something more serious like COVID-19, we’ve put together the following table that will help you compare symptoms. 

Allergies vs. COVID-19
Symptom Allergies COVID-19
Coughing  ✔  ✔
Sneezing/congestion  ✔  ✔
Red, itchy eyes  ✔  X
Sore throat occasional common
Wheezing/shortness of breath occasional common
Headache  ✔  ✔
Fever  X  ✔
Loss of sense of smell/taste  X  ✔
Gastrointestinal symptoms  X  ✔
Muscle aches  X  ✔

How to Manage Allergies

When the flowers start blooming and little noses start running, you’ll need a strategy to manage your child’s allergy symptoms so they don’t get sent home from school on the regular.

Your child’s pediatrician should always have the final say in their care plan. But Savita Ginde, MD, MPH, a family planning expert and chief healthcare officer at STRIDE Community Health Center in Denver, Colorado, says, “Typically your doctor will recommend a seasonal allergy medicine combined with an allergy nasal spray to control symptoms.” 

Savita Ginde, MD

Wearing a mask regularly and properly helps to block the allergens that come along with seasonal allergies and can in fact reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies.

— Savita Ginde, MD

If this doesn’t help alleviate symptoms, allergy shots are another option you could try. And, says Ginde, a doctor’s note sent to school can help ease any concerns the school may have over possible virus transmission. 

And it just may be that face masks come in handy for more than just COVID, “Wearing a mask regularly and properly helps to block the allergens that come along with seasonal allergies and can in fact reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies,” says Ginde.

What to Do If You’re Really Not Sure

These days, it’s not ideal to send your child to school if they’re at all under the weather. With schools on high alert for possible virus transmission within their walls, your child’s school is much more likely to send them home than they would have been before the pandemic struck. With that being the case, you may be wondering how to handle this new dynamic. 

The first step you should always take if your little one seems to be battling an illness is check for fever. Fever is never a sign of seasonal allergies, and it’s always a sign that indicates you should keep your child home from school or other activities. It is a common sign of other common childhood illnesses like strep or flu, which are also easy to spread via close contact with others.

If your child has a fever, the next thing you should do is call the doctor. Once you have a chance to describe your child’s symptoms, your child's doctor can advise you on how to treat your child and what could be going on. Many pediatric offices offer telehealth appointments that can take place before the school day even begins. 

Your doctor may advise that you bring your child in to be tested for COVID-19, or that you keep them home for a day or so until the fever and accompanying symptoms subside. 

What This Means for You

In order to reduce confusion about your child's symptoms, work with your doctor, consider trends (was your child suffering this time last year, too?), and examine symptoms closely. Doing these things can help prevent your child from missing school unnecessarily.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Christin Perry
Christin Perry is a freelance writer and editor. Her work has been published in The Bump, The Knot, Scary Mommy, LittleThings, Parents, Qeepsake, and more. She has experience writing email marketing campaigns, website copy, and SEO-optimized content. Christin is also a mom of three.