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Seasonal Allergies or COVID-19? How to Tell the Difference

Thursday, August 06, 2020 10:06 AM

During allergy season, it may be hard to tell the difference between COVID-19 and allergies. The main warning signs of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, are fever, fatigue, and a dry cough. Sometimes, it also causes cold-like symptoms like a runny nose. 

Allergy symptoms happen partly because of inflammation. That’s caused by your body overreacting to things like pollen or mold. Ewa Shafer, MDAdult Allergy & Asthma, Pediatric Allergy & Asthma offers us some insight into the differences between COVID-19 and allergies. 

Allergies vs COVID19

Common signs of allergies include:

  • Runny nose
  • Dry, tickly cough
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Congestion

People sometimes call allergies "hay fever," but they don’t give you a fever.

Signs of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • Body aches
  • Very sore throat
  • Fatigue that comes on quickly
  • Gastrointestinal problems like nausea or diarrhea
  • Loss of taste or smell

If you have any of these, especially a fever, call your physician. If you get allergies every year, watch for symptoms that are different from what you’ve had before.

Severe allergies can make you can feel tightness in your chest and shortness of breath, especially if you have asthma, too. But these can also be serious symptoms of COVID-19. If you aren’t sure or if you haven’t been diagnosed with asthma, call your doctor or 911 right away.

Is Sneezing a Common Coronavirus Symptom?
The new coronavirus doesn’t cause sneezing. But if you do sneeze, it’s important to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue to keep the virus from spreading. Wash your hands after sneezing, too. 

Are My Red Eyes Allergies or Coronavirus?
Only about 1% to 3% of people with COVID-19 will have pinkeye. If you notice that your eyes are red, the odds are that it’s not because of the coronavirus. Call your doctor if you have red eyes with other COVID-19 symptoms.

Can You Have Allergies and Coronavirus?
You can have allergies and a viral infection at the same time. If you have classic allergy signs like itchy eyes and a runny nose along with COVID-19 symptoms like fatigue and a fever, call your doctor. If you are unsure if symptoms are your allergies or symptoms are new you should self-isolate (ie stay away from others) and contact your doctor.

How to Treat Allergies During a Pandemic
In the midst of a virus outbreak, it can be concerning to go to a clinic for allergy treatment. You can contact your Allergist or primary care doctor who can do telemedicine (video visit) or phone visit. If pollen or mold are increasing your symptoms it is important to keep windows in your home closed especially in the early morning hours.

You can also try over-the-counter allergy medicines. Check with your supermarket or drugstore to see if they deliver and have these medications in stock. Or order them online. If you have trouble finding them, or if you continue to have symptoms or are not improving, call your doctor. They can see you via telemedicine (video) or a phone visit.

Asthma and COVID-19
There is no currently available data to support the belief that asthma is a risk factor for severe COVID-19. Available data suggest that the rate of asthma in patients with severe COVID-19 is the same or lower than the general population.

Systemic steroids are not recommended for the treatment of COVID-19 but are okay for asthma exacerbation.
There is no data showing that you should stop your inhaled corticosteroids (ie daily asthma inhalers). Abruptly stopping or lowering these medications may flare your asthma and place you at a higher risk of needing an Emergency room visit.

It is important to continue to manage asthma patients and asthma exacerbations according to the guidelines. NorthShore's focus is on asthma control to keep our patients well and out of the emergency room (ER) and urgent care, where the risk for infection with COVID-19 is much higher. If you are having any increase in asthma symptoms or spring/summer/fall is typically a time your asthma flares up this is an excellent time to schedule an in-office or Telemedicine visit with your doctor.

There is no evidence that the biologics (omalizumab (Xolair), mepolizumab (Nucala), Fasenra (benralizumab), Dupixent (dupilumab)) we use in asthma have any adverse effect on COVID-19 cases, and it would be important to continue them based on the need for asthma control.

There is concern that nebulizers allow for increased spread of COVID 19. If you have others living in your home, instead of using your nebulizer we recommend using albuterol 2- 8 puff(s) every 4 hours as needed for your symptoms.

As always please contact your doctor with further questions or concerns who are available for Telemedicine (audio and video) visits and in-office consultations in order to make sure that your asthma and your allergies are under control.

When social distancing or stay-at-home rules are in effect, always follow the COVID-19 safety steps recommended by public health officials:

  • Avoid crowded areas and stay 6 feet or more away from others.
  • Wash your hands often and avoid touching your face.
  • Visit public places like stores only when you have to, especially if you’re in an area with lots of cases.
  • Always wear a face mask that completely covers your nose and mouth, when you go out.

If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, contact our community health hotline at 847.432.5849 or begin an E-Visit through NorthShoreConnect.