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Sharp Health News

Is it COVID-19 or allergies?

May 5, 2020

Woman holding her forehead and a cup

Allergies are never fun. Allergies during the COVID-19 pandemic add a new layer to the nuisance - trying to decipher the symptoms and assure those around you that you're not sick.

While San Diego's weather is relatively warm year-round, we do have an allergy season. From January to mid-April, tree pollen season is in full bloom. Grass pollen season is year-round, and we won't face weed pollen season until August.

To help you understand and manage your allergies in the age of COVID-19, we asked Dr. Ashika Odhav, a board-certified allergy and immunology doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy, to share her expertise.

What are the typical symptoms of allergies?
As the weather gets warmer and we approach spring, the pollen counts will be increasing. People with allergies typically present with itchy eyes, itchy nose and sneezing. Allergy symptoms also include less specific symptoms such as runny nose, nasal congestion, watery and red eyes, sore throat and cough from postnasal drip.

What are the typical symptoms of COVID-19?
The common and sometimes more severe symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Two additional symptoms include fatigue and loss of appetite. Less commonly, individuals may have diarrhea, nausea or vomiting. A significant number of people have mild symptoms or present none at all. Usually symptoms appear within five days after exposure, but it can take up to 14 days.

What if these symptoms overlap with each other?
Any viral symptoms can overlap with allergy symptoms. But according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), congestion, loss of smell and a runny nose are the three most common symptoms that can be experienced by those with either COVID-19 or allergies. Visit the AAAAI symptom tracker to get a better idea of the similarities and differences.

Why is it ill-timed to experience allergy symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there are other illnesses such as allergies, influenza and the common cold that can cause confusion or add fears when an individual presents with symptoms. It is important to remember these other illnesses were present before this pandemic began.

In this time of social distancing, it's important for those experiencing allergy symptoms to stay home. Some allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, can increase the spread of other infections you may have, endangering our at-risk communities. People with allergies also need to be vigilant about not touching their face, despite symptoms such as itchy eyes.

How can someone with allergies be sure they are not experiencing COVID-19?
The best way to diagnose allergies is by testing at an allergist's office. If medications, such as over-the-counter antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays, helped in prior years, then your symptoms are more likely seasonal allergies.

The key factors indicating seasonal allergies are:

  1. Previous history of seasonal allergies
  2. Component of itch with your symptoms
  3. Lingering of symptoms for months

Viral symptoms (for example, the common cold or flu) last a few days to a few weeks. If you are concerned about your symptoms, contact your doctor to find out whether you should be tested for COVID-19, and if testing is available near you. The criteria for getting tested are rapidly changing.

Should allergy management tactics change during the time of COVID-19?
It is important for people with allergy symptoms to continue to take their over-the-counter medications for symptom control. Individuals can still have influenza or the common cold, which mimic allergy symptoms, and over-the-counter medications can help with symptom control.

It is important to get rest, stay hydrated and practice social distancing. Stay in touch with your doctor and call before you get medical care. Be sure to get care if you have trouble breathing or any other emergency warning signs, or if you think it's an emergency.

Is someone with allergies more likely to get COVID-19 or face complications?
No, they are not more susceptible, nor is there an indication that they will face complications if they contract COVID-19. The higher risk population is the elderly and those individuals with certain underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease and prior stroke.

Learn what Sharp HealthCare is doing in response to COVID-19.

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