woman with hand against her throat with an expression of discomfort

Acid Reflux, Allergies Or COVID-19?

Tips for sorting through similar symptoms

For months we’ve heard about the symptoms of the coronavirus, with new symptoms being added as health experts learn more about the virus. Many of the symptoms are common in other health issues including allergies and Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), also referred to as acid reflux. Particularly early in the course of COVID-19 or with mild cases, the symptoms from COVID can mimic other types of infections (like the common cold) and diseases (like allergies, asthma and reflux). Here are a few tips for telling them apart.

Know the Key Differences

“The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are cough, fever, and in more severe cases, difficulty breathing,” explained Jennifer Frank, MD, ThedaCare Chief Medical Officer. “It can be hard to know whether symptoms are related to COVID or another condition.”

Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach). This backwash of stomach secretions (acid reflux) can irritate the lining of your esophagus.

“Many people have experienced acid reflux at some point in their life,” said Dr. Frank. “It is often a burning sensation in your chest or stomach or sour taste in your throat or mouth. This can be more common after eating a big meal, eating certain foods, drinking coffee or alcohol.”

Besides acid reflux, there are other health conditions with similar symptoms of COVID-19 that might be overlooked. One of the most common conditions can be seasonal allergies.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, many people were mistaking COVID-19 symptoms for allergies,” explained Dr. Frank. “It is easy to do as some experience mild symptoms of coronavirus. Perhaps you thought you were just having a bad allergy season.”

There are two strong signs that suggest allergies: if you’ve had seasonal allergies before, and if itchy eyes, nose or throat are your main symptoms.

“People with allergies often have itchy eyes, itchy nose, and sneezing,” said Dr. Frank. “If you have a more severe form of allergies, you could experience a sore throat or cough that is brought on by postnasal drip.”

This chart details the differences between the acid reflux, allergies and COVID-19:
COVID-19AllergiesAcid Reflux
CoughSneezingCough (Dry, no mucus)
Fever or chillsRunny or stuffy noseChest pain
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathingWatery and itchy eyesFeeling of a lump in your throat
FatigueItchy sinuses, throat or ear canalsRegurgitation of food
Muscle or body achesEar congestionDifficulty swallowing
New loss of taste or smellPostnasal drainageThroat irritation
HeadacheCoughWorsening of asthma
Sore throat
Congestion or runny nose
Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

What to Do if You Think You Have COVID-19

“It’s important to note that if you are experiencing any symptoms that could be COVID-19, call your primary care provider,” said Dr. Frank. “Their team will help you determine what the best recommendation is, which could be self-quarantining or potential testing.”

As for coronavirus, there are precautions to take that can reduce your risk of exposure:

  • Take part in physical distancing, staying six feet from others
  • Wear a face mask or face covering in public areas
  • Avoid handshakes, hugs and kisses
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
  • Avoid people who are sick
  • Stay away from others if you are sick

If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, please call your primary care provider FIRST and team members will help direct you to the appropriate care. The community can also use the online symptom checker which can be found at thedacarecovid19.org, or call the COVID-19 Community Line, 920.830.6877.