It’s that time of the year again. When our eyes itch, our noses run, we’re coughing up a storm – and we wonder if the symptoms are allergies or the coronavirus.
That’s right, spring allergy season is here again in New Jersey. Pollen counts will continue to rise through April and May and into the first week of June when grass pollen peaks. Those pesky allergy symptoms should start to subside around July 4th. But until then, any cough or wheezing will put a lot of people on edge.
Mark Weinstein, director of allergy and immunology for Riverside Medical Group in northern New Jersey, said the same rule of thumb applies this year to differentiate between COVID and seasonal pollen reactions: Allergies will cause more itching in the nose and throat, along with watery eyes and sinus pressure.
Both COVID and allergies cause coughing and wheezing. But the biggest difference is that only COVID has a fever, Weinstein added.
“The hallmark of allergy is itching,” Weinstein said. “The itchy nose, itchy eyes, itchy ears, itchy throat. Those are all telltale signs. “
Weinstein added that the general public’s experience with COVID last year should better prepare people to deal with symptoms of any kind this time around. In addition, COVID tests are much more accessible than last spring, when the outbreak of the new virus was just beginning to overwhelm the state.
“There is much more understanding among the general population about COVID at this point,” he said. “It is much less mysterious than last year. But we certainly have a fair share of patients who come in with nasal complaints and cough and who aren’t sure if it could be COVID. “
There are several additional ways to tell the difference between COVID and allergies, experts said. Maria Lania-Howarth, chief of allergy and immunology at Cooper University Health Care, said people with coronavirus are likely to feel ‘very unwell’ as well.
“You may see congestion and a runny nose in both,” she said. “But they won’t feel sick and sore and the extreme fatigue they could feel with COVID-19.”
Weinstein also said coronavirus patients can have gastrointestinal symptoms – nausea, vomiting, diarrhea – rarely seen with seasonal allergies.
Most of the time, fighting allergies doesn’t put you in a higher risk category when dealing with coronavirus unless you suffer from allergy-induced asthma, Weinstein said.
“You could get an additive effect if your asthma is already flaring up because of the allergies and then you add the infection on top,” he said.
In the meantime, allergy sufferers can expect their symptoms to increase until the end of June. But after the first week of July, pollen counts will start to drop again, and the rest of the summer should be comfortable.
Everyone will breathe a sigh of relief – at least until the cold and flu season arrives.
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