As spring returns and plants begin blooming, pollen allergens are making a comeback.
While there are similarities between allergies and COVID-19 symptoms, a few telling factors can help differentiate the two.
“I think that people should be able to figure out, especially if they’ve had had allergies before,” said Kathryn Moffett, WVU Medicine pediatric infectious disease specialist. “You kind of should know what your allergy symptoms are.”
Archana Vasudevan, Mon Health Medical Center infectious disease physician, said fevers, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, or new loss of taste or sense of smell, are a few symptoms common to look out for when it comes to COVID-19.
Some common seasonal allergy symptoms include itching, sneezing or congestion. Some people with longstanding seasonal allergies may have problems with sense of smell, but this does not start suddenly.
“There are people who have had such horrible sinus trouble that they’ve lost their sense of smell over their lifetime,” Moffett said. “That’s different than COVID, where I’m told that over a matter of an hour or two, a person can tell that they’re losing their taste and smell.”
While taking symptoms into consideration, another factor that could help determine which symptoms someone is experiencing is exposure to COVID-19.
“Anyone who has had close exposure to a person with confirmed COVID-19 can be at high risk for infection themselves and will need to get tested,” Vasudevan said. “If you develop fevers, chills, fatigue in addition to your normal seasonal allergy symptoms, you should get tested.”
Although there are differences between allergy and COVID-19 symptoms, it is possible to have allergy symptoms and COVID-19 at the same time. If allergy symptoms are present, Moffett said it is still important to be wary of COVID-19 symptoms.
Seasonal allergies can be developed at any point in someone’s lifetime. Even if someone has not had experience with allergies in the past, it is still possible to show symptoms later in life.
According to Vasudevan, there is currently no data to show how seasonal allergies may impact someone who contracts COVID-19. She said people with other medical problems including diabetes, heart disease and emphysema, and the elderly, are at higher risk for more severe COVID-19, and should talk with healthcare providers to help with treatment.
This time of year, common allergens come from trees, grasses, weeds or mold spores. Year-round allergies can typically be attributed to things like mites, dust or animal dander.
There are many ways to help reduce or prevent allergy symptoms. Seasonal allergies typically stem from contact with pollen, and can be reduced by limiting outdoor time during high pollen days.
Along with limiting outdoor time when possible, Vasudevan said wearing a mask can be useful. Not only are masks effective in decreasing the spread of COVID-19, but also have shown to provide some protection against pollen exposure.
Moffett said there are also many long-acting, over-the-counter antihistamine medications that can be helpful in reducing allergy symptoms. These include brands such as Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra. She said some nose-spray steroids are also available as prescriptions or over the counter, which act as an anti-inflammatory and help to block the reactions to allergies.
For those who are unable to get relief through antihistamines, allergy shots are also available. This method works by testing someone for the exact allergens causing symptoms, and then injects a small dose allergen to desensitize someone to it.
As COVID-19 vaccines become more accessible, Moffett and Vasudevan said, all in the community are encouraged to get vaccinated when possible.
“The vaccines being opened up to more and more groups that people should consider getting vaccinated,” Moffett said. “Then, they won’t have to worry whether they have COVID symptoms or not.”