Seasonal allergies are common among many Americans. If not managed properly, they can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms such as itchy eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose. Seasonal allergies and COVID-19 can cause many of the same symptoms, making it more difficult to recognize whether that runny nose is a normal part of your allergies or related to the COVID-19 virus.
Although COVID-19 cases have been decreasing, decline has slowed in recent weeks, and there continues to be a prevalence of the virus in some areas. Unlike COVID-19, seasonal allergies aren’t caused by a virus. They are an immune system response triggered by an exposure to allergens, such as seasonal trees, grass, or weed pollen.
What Causes Seasonal Allergies?
Allergens are usually harmless substances that cause the immune system to overreact – mistaking the substance for a dangerous invader. The immune system reacts to this invader or allergen by producing antibodies that help protect the body. Antibodies release a number of immune system chemicals, such as histamine, which typically cause symptoms in the nose, throat, eyes, ears, skin, or roof of the mouth.
Pollen is a common trigger of seasonal allergies. Most pollen responsible for causing an allergic reaction comes from trees, grasses, and weeds that make small, dry, and light pollen grains that float in the air and can find their way into the eyes, nose, and lungs, causing allergy symptoms in those with a pollen allergy. Tree pollen is often the first pollen to appear each year in the United States, and is responsible for most spring pollen allergy symptoms. However, depending on which state you live it, pollen season can vary and different pollens may overlap or appear multiple times during the year.
Treatment for Seasonal Allergies
There are a range of nonprescription and prescription treatments that work to alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, a runny nose, and watery eyes. Treatment of seasonal allergies may include antihistamines, decongestants, corticosteroids, and avoidance of exposure to allergens where possible.
In some people, allergies can be more problematic and may affect breathing and the ability to sleep. For severe symptoms, it is important to get a formal diagnosis from a doctor or allergy specialist in order to manage an allergy successfully and to prevent complications or more serious allergic reactions.
Treatments such as immunotherapy or treatment for allergic asthma may be recommended for more serious allergies. Immunotherapy works by changing the way the body’s immune system reacts to the allergen. It allows the body to build up immunity to an allergen by safely introducing small amounts to the body over a period of time.
In most cases, allergy treatments such as antihistamines, won’t protect you against COVID-19 and often don’t help with COVID-related symptoms. However, allergy treatments are usually safe to use if you have COVID-19 at the same time as a seasonal allergy, but you should always check this with your healthcare provider to ensure you don’t have any drug interactions while also taking medications for COVID symptoms.
Is it COVID-19 or Seasonal Allergies?
Because COVID-19 and seasonal allergies can share many of the same symptoms, it isn’t always easy to distinguish between the two conditions. However, there are some differences to keep in mind.
Seasonal allergies tend to have a regular seasonal pattern of symptoms, and people with pollen allergies only have symptoms when the pollens they are allergic to are active in the air. Seasonal allergies may last several weeks with symptoms becoming worse when the pollen count is high – often in the morning and early evening. The most common symptoms include:
- Runny nose (usually a clear, thin nasal discharge)
- Stuffy nose/nasal congestion
- Itchy eyes, nose, ears, and mouth
- Red and watery eyes
- Swelling around the eyes
- In people with asthma, pollen can make asthma symptoms worse
There have been a wide variety of COVID-19 symptoms reported, which range from mild symptoms to severe illness. Some of these symptoms, such as a runny nose or nasal congestion, may be mistaken for allergy symptoms.
For most people, symptoms of COVID-19 appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. The most common COVID-19 symptoms include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
If you experience allergy symptoms with no fever that appear at the same time each year, such as in early spring or summer, and usually respond successfully to antihistamines and other allergy treatments, it can be a good indication of a seasonal allergy. However, if you are in doubt or think you have been exposed to COVID-19, you should always take recommended COVID-19 precautions and seek medical advice.
COVID-19 tests are available online or in pharmacies and retail stores, or can be done at your local community testing site. If you are unsure how to get tested, call your local health department for options.
How An Allergy Specialist Can Help
If you have symptoms that may be related to allergies, an allergy specialist can help. They offer comprehensive allergy care and are experienced in diagnosing and treating all types of allergies. They can work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan, based on your exact diagnosis and symptoms. Treatments can include:
- Allergy avoidance and identifying allergy (or asthma) triggers
- Medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, corticosteroids, and quick-relief inhalers
- Immunotherapy (for certain allergies)
- Emergency epinephrine (shot to treat severe allergic reactions)
- Education and guidance
If you suspect you have an allergy, are finding your allergy symptoms are interfering with your daily activities or quality of life, or if your condition is getting worse, don’t delay, seek advice from an allergy specialist as soon as possible.
Allergy Doctor in Weatherford, TX
At the Lung and Sleep Specialists of North Texas, our dedicated board-certified providers specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic conditions and take a holistic approach in treating your condition effectively.