Have a sore throat but aren’t sure what’s causing it?
There are several possibilities that could be behind the symptom, with things like COVID, allergies, and strep throat all leading to similar symptoms.
Currently, allergy season is at its peak in the Chicago area, bringing a rash of cold-like symptoms, with the peak expected to continue through late September for those particularly sensitive to ragweed.
While there are several overlapping symptoms when it comes to allergies and COVID, such as runny nose, sneezing, throat irritation, Loyola allergist Dr. Rachna Shah said there are a few ways to tell the difference.
“The symptoms that we see when it comes to COVID compared to those who have allergies are generally sore throat, fever, body aches and pains,” Shah said.
Meanwhile, symptoms like itchy eyes or itchy ears are largely signs of allergies. Meanwhile, strep throat doesn’t usually come with the symptoms of a viral infection that COVID has, such as congestion, loss of taste or smell, cough, or shortness of breath.
Currently, the highly contagious BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants account for the majority of cases reported this summer.
Those subvariants have caused more upper respiratory, cold and flu-like symptoms, according to Chicago’s top physician.
Before self-diagnosis, health officials have said the best way to identify the source of your symptoms is through testing, especially given the overlap between coronavirus and seasonal allergies.
“Home testing is still a good way to screen and determine whether or not you have COVID,” Shah said.
And other experts agree.
“When in doubt, I would say get tested before you go and expose other people,” Dr. Sai Nimmagadda, an allergist at Lurie Children’s Hospital, told NBC 5 last month.
That’s especially important for those who will be around people who are immunocompromised or at risk.
“If you test negative the first time, you need to repeat it, especially if your symptoms continue or don’t respond to your classic allergy medication,” Nimmagadda said.
Similarly, under revised FDA guidance, people who have been exposed to COVID-19 may need to take up to three tests at home.
Here is a list of symptoms of COVID, strep throat, and allergies as described by the CDC:
Symptoms of COVID-19
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell (although doctors have noted that the latest variants of COVID do not usually cause loss of taste or smell)
- Throat pain
- stuffy or runny nose
- nausea or vomiting
Even those who receive the coronavirus vaccine can also contract the virus and may experience symptoms. However, most people vaccinated have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, according to health officials, and the virus rarely results in hospitalization or death for those people.
The CDC recommends seeking medical attention if a person has trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, and inability to wake or stay awake, as well as pale, gray, or blue skin, lips, or fingernails.
- Symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:
- runny nose
- Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include:
- red, watery, or itchy eyes
Symptoms of strep throat
- Sore throat that can start very quickly
- pain when swallowing
- Red, swollen tonsils, sometimes with white spots or streaks of pus
- Tiny red spots (petechiae, pronounced pi-TEE-kee-eye) on the roof of the mouth (the soft or hard palate)
- Swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck