By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Maybe you’ve been scratching your eyes or wiping your nose more lately.

Spring allergy season is here, once again right alongside the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Some of the symptoms between the two are similar. So how do you know if it’s COVID-19 or allergies? WCCO helps you spot the differences, and highlights a common deterrent for both of them.

Spring in Minnesota. One day you’re basking in the sun. The next, it disappears behind a blanket of snow. And amidst those frosty flakes that fell Monday is an annual helping of allergies.

Staff at Sunnyside Gardens in Minneapolis almost specialize in fighting them.

But how can we tell if it’s COVID-19 or allergies? WCCO spoke with Dr. John Sweet, an allergist with Hennepin Healthcare.

“There’s a lot of overlap between allergies and COVID, which can be very confusing,” Sweet said.

The overlapping symptoms include coughs, fatigue, headaches, sore throat and some congestion. But here’s how they’re different: COVID-19 has fever, body aches, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting — all of which are not connected to excess pollen in your nose.

(credit: CBS)

Meanwhile, allergies will bring on itching, sneezing and nasal congestion.

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“You can have decreased sense of smell in both cases, but with COVID it would be a sudden onset and often without nasal congestion,” Sweet said.

For instance, you can take a deep breath with your nose and not smell anything, which is a COVID symptom. With allergies, you struggle to smell because you can’t breathe through your congested nose.

Does a mask help at all with allergies?

“Yes, masks can help, to a point,” Sweet said.

As masks prevent us from spreading COVID-19 droplets, they also somewhat help to stop us from breathing in pesky allergens like pollen.

One big difference between this spring season and the last is the better access to COVID-19 testing in Minnesota, which Dr. Sweet said will help people determine what they’re dealing with.

“The tests are very quick and the results can come back within a day,” Sweet said. “It’s best for everyone, your safety and everyone else’s to get tested if you think you may have an infection.”

Dr. Sweet says taking your allergy meds early in the morning and daily can help fight symptoms. And if you’ve been outside much of the day, a shower at night can help wash off the pollen on your hair or skin.

While most adults succumb to seasonal allergies at an early age, Dr. Sweet said it’s possible that some people can get them for the first time in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

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“But there’s usually some family history of someone in the family having allergies, also,” he said.

Jeff Wagner