Latest Allergies News
Confusion is perfectly understandable because "a lot of the symptoms are overlapping for mild COVID and seasonal allergies," said Dr. Gregory Levitin, an otolaryngologist at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, in New York City.
"We've had an unusually bad pollen season," said Fineman, an allergy specialist in Marietta, Ga. "This year we've already had 20 days with the pollen count over 1,000," about as many as during most full spring allergy seasons.
Seasonal allergies happen when your immune system mistakenly identifies pollen from trees, flowers or grass as a dangerous invader, like a bacterium or virus.
As part of its allergic response, your body releases chemicals called histamines. Itching and sneezing are major side effects of the inflammation caused by histamines, along with runny noses and watery eyes.
"That's almost always associated with allergies," Levitin said.
There also are a great many symptoms in common between COVID-19 and allergies.
For example, loss of taste or smell is now widely known as a COVID-19 symptom, but some folks with allergies might have trouble smelling as well, Levitin noted.
Other common symptoms of both COVID-19 and allergies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include:
The amount of time you've been miserable provides a big clue as to whether you've got the novel coronavirus or are simply dealing with pollen allergies, Levitin said. A sudden onset of symptoms is more likely with COVID-19.
"You have to tease it out to see if it's part of a two- or three-week course of allergy or are these two or three days of symptoms that started suddenly and unexpectedly, even in the background of allergies," Levitin said.
People who want to protect themselves against seasonal allergies should consider closing their windows, running a HEPA air filter in their home, and putting allergy covers on their pillow cases and mattresses, he suggested.
Folks can treat seasonal allergies using over-the-counter remedies, including steroidal nasal sprays like Flonase or Nasonex, or oral antihistamines like Claritin, Allegra and Zyrtec, Levitin added. Doctors can provide stronger prescription drugs for harsher allergy symptoms.
And if you're truly not sure whether you have COVID-19 or allergies, don't hesitate to be tested.
"Because we are still in a COVID world, I would not want to come across as not suspicious for COVID," Levitin said. "Anyone with not two or three weeks but two or three days of symptoms should talk to a doctor about getting tested."
SOURCES: Stanley Fineman, MD, past president, American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, and allergy specialist, Marietta, Ga.; Gregory Levitin, MD, otolaryngologist, New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, New York City
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