Lately at the pharmacy counter, with a mask on, socially distant, I have been talking to patients about allergies. Following Centers for Disease Control guidelines of staying distant and wearing masks has limited the flu season, but allergy sufferers may not be as lucky. Patients are eager to get outside and enjoy the warmer weather. With springtime upon us, many patients are starting to experience runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, cough and congestion. In the COVID-19 era, any symptom can be alarming, and patients are asking how to tell the difference between normal spring allergies and COVID symptoms.
For allergy sufferers, this time of year may make things more complicated. There are many similarities between the symptoms of seasonal allergies and COVID-19; however, there are some specific differences that can help you decide. Of course, any severe symptoms should be reported to your primary care physician or urgent care center. Itchy/watery eyes are not reported with COVID-19, but many allergy sufferers will experience these symptoms. Runny nose and sneezing are rarely reported by COVID-19 patients but often are a reaction to allergies. Chills and body aches are symptoms of COVID-19 rarely reported by allergy sufferers. COVID-19 symptoms can be similar to seasonal allergies, but often include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. COVID-19 patients may also complain of not being able to taste or smell, or experience diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. If you do not have any of these symptoms, it might just be seasonal allergies.
Checking your temperature is a good first step to help determine the difference, as most patients with COVID-19 experience a fever. Recalling your allergy history is also another piece of the puzzle. If the symptoms are similar to ones you have experienced around springtime in years past, that is another clue it may just be your seasonal allergies. Simple over-the-counter treatments, like antihistamines, are also a good first step. Most patients respond well to these medications if the symptoms are from simple seasonal allergies. 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 are not sure or if you have not been diagnosed with asthma, call your doctor or 911 right away.
As always, it is easier to prevent allergies than to treat them once they have started. Oral antihistamines like Claritin and Zyrtec and nasal corticosteroid sprays like Flonase and Nasacort are common over-the-counter treatments that are more effective if taken before the allergy exposure. If you are an allergy sufferer, it is advisable to start your preventative treatment before the allergy season gets in full swing. Talk to your local community pharmacist to see what treatment is best for you.