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Is it allergies or COVID-19?

Last Modified: 7/14/2020

Allergies

This post was written by Heather Willison, MSN, FNP-C, PPG – Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Remember last summer, when a cough or sneeze didn’t result in everyone at the grocery store staring at you poised to run in the opposite direction? Those were the good ole days, when everyone just assumed that your cough or sneeze was due to allergies or asthma. Now we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic, and some of my patients have expressed interest in designing t-shirts that clearly state, “Hey, I’m allergic to grass pollen! No need to run!” Unfortunately, concern over COVID-19 has placed a target on the backs of those who do suffer from allergies or asthma. Because some of the symptoms are similar, it’s certainly understandable. 

How to tell the difference

A stuffy and/or runny nose and sneezing can be caused by allergies, and can also occur during a viral illness. Similarly, a cough can be a sign of flaring asthma, or can occur during a cold. However, itchy eyes are not usually a symptom during a viral illness. Diarrhea and fever would also be an unusual finding in someone with environmental allergies.

Allergy symptoms

Five tips for surviving allergy season during this pandemic

1.Manage your meds – The most important thing that you can do right now is take your allergy or asthma medications on a consistent basis. Maintaining control of your symptoms is key.

2.Know your surroundings – Avoid being around things or conditions that trigger your symptoms.  If you know that sitting around a campfire will cause you to cough for a few days, then maybe you should consider skipping that activity this year. Giving up s’mores is a small sacrifice if it keeps you cough-free.

3.Practice preventionWear a mask when social distancing is not possible, and take the time to find a mask that is comfortable for you. Masks are not one-size-fits-all. Comfort and breathability are important.

4.Hygiene is key – Please, wash your hands.

5.Don’t share your symptoms with others – If you are actively coughing or sneezing, stay home. 

When to seek medical care

If you are experiencing your typical allergy or asthma symptoms, such as sneezing, a runny nose or cough, and your usual treatment plan isn’t working, that is a good indicator that it is time to be evaluated. 

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