Clarity on COVID-19 for people with asthma or allergies

Although information is changing day to day, sneezing and a runny nose caused by COVID-19 should not cause itchy eyes, an itchy nose or palate, which are common symptoms of seasonal allergies.

While asthmatics are not at an increased risk for catching COVID-19, they are at an increased risk of having a more severe reaction. And like any upper respiratory infection, the novel coronavirus can trigger asthma and cause wheezing as well as cough and shortness of breath.

As countries around the world practice varying degrees of social distancing, working from home, temporary school closures and other measures to slow the spread of the COVID-19, constant messages of the symptoms to look out for according to the CDC have been:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath

As many of us now know, the elderly (over 65 years old) and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of getting hospitalized with COVID-19, but how about those with respiratory issues like asthma or allergies? In the early spring, when the tree pollens and mold spore levels rise, people can start to notice a sore throat, nasal drainage, and asthma flares but how can you distinguish these symptoms from allergies, asthma, or an infection such as COVID-19?

The ways to minimize the risk of catching COVID-19 include the following:

  • Social distancing. Staying at home and keeping a distance from those outside of your household is the best chance of keeping yourself, your family and community safe. While this is a huge disruption in our lives, this is the best chance we have of stopping or slowing person to person spread. Not all folks carrying the virus will show symptoms, so the fewer people you encounter, the better chance you have that you won’t pick it up.
  • Wash your hands. You’re probably hearing this multiple times a day now, but wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap. Take some time to make sure that you are washing your fingertips well, which is an area that is missed most often.
  • Don’t touch your face with unwashed hands. This seems like common sense, but when we try to consciously stop this habit, we realize how often throughout the day we touch our nose, lips or eyes – all entry points for viruses.
  • Asthma medication. If you are on an asthma medication, please make sure that you are taking your doses as prescribed. Uncontrolled asthma increases your risk of having an asthma attack if you pick up any respiratory virus including the novel coronavirus. If you have an asthma attack and need to be put on an oral steroid like prednisone, it will temporarily weaken your immune system which makes it hard for your cells to fight off infections like COVID-19. Although many inhalers are steroids, inhaled steroids are much less potent and do not suppress the immune system in a significant way.
  • Treat your seasonal allergies. Stay on top of treating your seasonal allergies so that there is no confusion as to whether you’re having symptoms because of the high pollen and/or mold counts or because you’re developing a respiratory infection.

Make sure that any medical conditions you may have are well treated and controlled, so that your body is more resilient in fighting off any infection, not just COVID-19. Be sure to contact your doctor if you start to demonstrate any symptoms of COVID-19 because early detection and management are vital in keeping yourself and the ones you love healthy.

I encourage all my patients to be proactive as we all have a part in “flattening the curve” or minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Changing our lifestyles is not an easy feat but small, temporary sacrifices are a small price to pay if it saves even one life.

If you cannot work from home or for those times at the grocery store, try to maintain a 6 feet distance from others to decrease the transmission of the virus. Although we will all be spending more time at home now, try to make the most of it. Catch up on those forgotten home projects, keep up or start an exercise routine and don’t forget to get outdoors to get some vitamin D, which helps keep you and your immune system strong.

If you’re feeling a little sick, it can be hard to know if you have the flu, seasonal allergies or COVID-19. This chart can help you know the difference and find out what to do about it.

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