What is the difference between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies?

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Spring brings us warmer temperatures, longer days, and blooming foliage, but it can also bring on seasonal allergies. In the past, we would think a sneeze is a sneeze or is allergies this time of year, right? Well, maybe.

Here are some ideas from Dr. Steven Rishardson on how to manage allergies and the primary differences between seasonal allergies and COVID-19.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 50 million Americans experience various types of allergies each year. In fact, according to this source, allergies are among the country’s most common but overlooked conditions. Individuals who only show allergy symptoms during certain times of the year, such as spring through early summer, may be suffering from seasonal allergies.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, tree and plant pollen is the most common culprit this time of year for both adults and children, with ragweed showing up in the fall. The type of allergen can vary in terms of timing and severity depending on the region in which individuals live. Intermountain Allergy and Asthma provide a daily pollen count here in Utah that can help you determine what allergies are in the air.

Common symptoms of seasonal allergies:

  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Rash/hives
  • Less common, but more serious symptoms include:
  • Trouble breathing; may include symptoms of asthma such as wheezing
  • Swelling in the mouth or throat which rarely can block a person’s airway

There are many different ways to treat allergies, but there are common methods. Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms and his or her medical history, but include:

  • Avoidance of triggers
  • Medication, either over the counter or prescription
  • Immunotherapy, when indicated, where gradually increasing amounts of the culprit allergen are given to allow the body to better tolerate it.

Since it’s not always 100 percent possible to avoid all triggering situations, it’s important to develop an allergy action plan. Your primary care physician is in a good position to help develop a plan for avoiding your allergens and treating your symptoms when they develop. In certain circumstances, if your allergic condition is more difficult to manage, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the treatment of allergies.

Another step you can take to better prepare for seasonal allergies is to monitor mold and pollen counts, which are typically reported on in weather reports via radio or TV. People will often activate their allergy action plan when pollen or mold counts start to rise.

As we all know a runny nose and scratchy throat is enough to scare us into thinking we may have COVID-19. Coughing and shortness of breath are symptoms of both COVID-19 and allergies making things confusing. One major difference is a fever. If your temperature rises, then it is most likely not allergies. If you have a fever, seek out COVID-19 testing promptly and also take additional precautions to not infect others.

Seasonal allergy symptoms include itchy eyes, a sniffly nose, and sneezing. If your conditions worsen when you go outside, it’s probably allergies. Above all, have a conversation with your primary care physician and their office to take the best course of action for you and your loved ones’ health.

If you have questions call 1-866-637-5268 for more information or TTY 711.

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