Spring allergy season is now in full bloom, meaning many residents in the Pacific Northwest are waking up to itchy eyes, sore throats, and stuffy noses. Given the current events, these symptoms are leaving many to wonder if they have allergies or COVID-19. Dr. Knutson, who focuses on allergies and immunology at Pacific Medical Centers, answers common questions to help identify and understand allergies this season.
Q: What are common symptoms of allergies compared to COVID-19?
A: This spring has been bad for allergies in our region. In fact, up to 30 percent of children and adults have allergies. Due to the dry spell that we had in April, there has been a lot of pollen in the air. Common symptoms for allergies are as follows: runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, postnasal drip, cough, watery/itchy eyes, itchy ear canal, plugged ears, general pruritus (itchiness), and fatigue.
However, common COVID-19 symptoms include: fever (well over 90 percent of COVID-19 patients have a fever over 100 degrees), dry cough, shortness of breath, headache, chills (rigors: muscle shaking with fever), GI symptoms (diarrhea), and lack of taste and smell. Additionally, some people may also experience a sore throat and back pain.
Q: Given the impact of allergies on our respiratory system, are we more likely to develop coronavirus?
A: It is unclear at this time if respiratory conditions such as allergies make us more susceptible to the novel coronavirus.
There are some things that may make us more susceptible to coronavirus, such as asthma, the common flu virus, and inflammation in the lungs. When in doubt, be sure that you’re reaching out to your primary care provider with any questions or concerns.
Q: How do you treat or minimize allergy symptoms?
A: To manage allergies, I recommend the following tips: stay indoors when you can, keep windows and doors closed, wear a mask outside to filter out the allergy triggers and pollen, wear sunglasses or eyeglasses, and don’t dry laundry outdoors, as that traps pollen in your clothes. Additionally, if you’re going out on walks with your pets, make sure you wipe down the pollen from their fur when you bring them back inside.
For at-home treatments, saltwater rinses (like a Neti Pot), over the counter medications such as oral antihistamines, and nasal steroids (corticosteroids) may also provide relief. Be sure to consult your primary care doctor when looking for advice on at-home treatments.
Q: What do you do if you are unsure whether you have seasonal allergies or COVID-19?
A: This is a relevant concern as COVID-19 targeted our area as soon as our spring allergies and asthma season started. Now more than ever, you should be diligent with taking your medications to ensure that you’re preventing effects. Additionally, remember to take the precautionary steps listed above to help minimize symptoms.
As always, and when in doubt, be sure that you’re reaching out to your primary care provider with any questions or concerns to be sure and stay home from work, if possible, to reduce the risk of exposure.
Dr. John Knutson is an allergy specialist at Pacific Medical Centers at the Canyon Park and Totem Lake clinics. He has been practicing at PacMed for three years. Dr. Knutson has received his degree from Saint Louis University School of Medicine and has his certification from American Board of Allergy and Immunology. His medical interest is allergic rhinitis, asthma, food allergy, chronic urticaria, and pediatric and adult allergy. When not at the clinic, you can find him hiking, cycling, swimming, and traveling