Spring allergies: How they differ from the coronavirus

Allergy specialist: Nasal congestion usually points to allergies, not COVID-19

Spring allergies: How they differ from the coronavirus

Spring allergies have been waiting to get after us in the Midwest. For many, the higher pollen counts that come with April, May and June can bring things like nasal congestion, a runny nose and itchy eyes.

This year the first pollen surge arrives while the coronavirus is also in our midst, unfortunately. While typical springtime allergies and COVID-19 are not a perfect match in symptoms, there are enough similarities to occasionally warrant concern and questions.

Related: COVID-19 FAQs: How can I tell if I have coronavirus?

“The biggest thing to remember is that people with springtime allergies usually have allergies every year at about the same time and they know what their symptoms are,” said Dr. Chris Cleveland, a specialist in allergies and immune disorders at Sanford Allergy and Asthma in Fargo, North Dakota.

“Congestion is real common with allergies whereas with COVID-19 infection, nasal congestion is not very common. One thing COVID-19 patients have noted is a loss of smell. But that would be fairly unusual for allergies if you don’t have congestion going on. The biggest thing would be fevers and shortness of breath associated with the virus. Fevers never occur with allergies. It’s just not something that happens.”

With pollen comes allergies

Generally, allergies arrive when pollen arrives. Pollen has its own schedule with tree pollen in spring, followed by a grass version in summer and a weed version in the fall. Mold can be a factor year-round but tends to be more common in the spring. Winter allergies are most closely associated with indoor issues. Dust mites and pet dander are frequent culprits.

“If there are any questions about concerning symptoms like fever, muscle aches and shortness of breath that are not typical of allergies, it’s possible you should seek attention and get testing for that,” said Dr. Nikki Patel, a specialist in adult and pediatric allergy at Sanford 32nd & Ellis Clinic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “But a lot of patients who suffer allergies have allergies that follow a very specific pattern and timeline. They’re usually very familiar with what is happening.”

Tending to symptoms

Usually, people can make it easier to tell the difference by addressing symptoms of their allergies.

“You really want to make sure your allergies are controlled,” Dr. Patel said. “It helps if you’re getting confusing symptoms about knowing whether you have an allergy or something else.”

Over-the-counter allergy relief comes in several forms:

  • Oral antihistamines – Brands include Zyrtec, Claritin and Allegra
  • Nasal sprays – Brands include Flonase and Nasacort
  • Eye drops – Brands include Ketotizin, Zaditor and Pataday

Location can also play a role in determining factors like pollen counts. Sanford doctors in Sioux Falls, for instance, will most likely be addressing spring allergy concerns before doctors would farther north in Bemidji, Minnesota.

“If you’ve had allergies in the past and over-the-counter medications seem to work relatively well for you, there is no reason not to treat yourself at home while you’re keeping a close eye on your symptoms,” Dr. Cleveland said. “Otherwise, give a call to your provider. Or if you’ve engaged with an allergist in the past, let us know the concerns you have.”

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Posted In Bemidji, COVID-19, Ear, Nose & Throat, Fargo, Sioux Falls