The weather is finally getting warmer, and as the flowers begin to bloom individuals with asthma and allergies are feeling the effects. Mold counts are high all throughout parts of the country that have experienced unprecedented rainfall and flooding. Those of us with allergies are watching the pollen levels and mold levels rise throughout the country and experiencing the symptoms such as itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, cough and even allergic asthma symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath.

This year, these common symptoms may be even more worrisome as the COVID-19 virus continues to be top of mind across the country. Dr. Juanita Mora, American Lung Association spokesperson and allergist/immunologist at the Chicago Allergy Center, spoke with us about how to tell the difference between typical allergy symptoms and COVID-19, and how to protect yourself during this confusing time.

Q: How do allergy symptoms differ from COVID-19 symptoms?

A: Allergy symptoms typically include itchy eyes, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, sneezing. COVID-19 symptoms may include fever, cough, chills, body aches and loss of taste or smell. Discuss with your doctor any concerns you have about new symptoms you worry could be COVID-19 or if you have been exposed to someone that currently has COVID-19. You can learn more about the symptoms of COVID-19 on American Lung Association website.

Q: Are people with allergies more susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19?

A: No. Current guidance lists many groups at high risk for complications from COVID-19 but individuals with allergies are not included.

Q: Are allergy medications helpful or harmful during this pandemic? What about nasal sprays?

A: Allergy medications are helpful to treat allergy symptoms and should continue to be taken as needed. Allergy medications do not suppress the immune system nor put people at higher risk of COVID-19 complications. Prescription nasal sprays contain steroids to decrease nasal and sinus inflammation, but the dose is not enough to affect the immune response to COVID-19. Patients should continue to use their nasal sprays and keep their allergy symptoms under good control. However, whatever you do, don’t hoard or overuse any medications, only take them as prescribed.

Q: If I have seasonal allergies, should I wear a mask or are there any complications from wearing masks? What about if I am sneezing?

A: Everyone should continue wearing a protective face covering to decrease the risk of unintentionally spreading COVID-19 to others – including those of us with allergies. If you have been outside during high pollen or mold count days wearing a cloth mask, I recommendation you wash it when you get home. And those with sensitive skin or history of contact dermatitis may need to wash the mask more frequently than others.

Make sure that you are taking recommended meds to keep your allergies under the best control possible to minimize sneezing attacks during this COVID-19 pandemic. If you are having sneezing attacks- make sure that you change your mask frequently. Do not take your mask off in public when you sneeze.

Q: Should I continue to see my doctor in person, or try to move to virtual visits?

A: It depends on your comfort level, guidance from your doctor and if you have risk factors that make you more prone to having complications from COVID-19. For example, people with hypertension, diabetes, COPD or any immunocompromised condition are recommended to stay home as much as possible. If you fit into any of these categories, you should stick to using telehealth to communicate with your healthcare team unless an in-person visit is deemed necessary by your doctor.

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