Is it COVID or seasonal allergies? Sluggish spring, overlapping symptoms causing confusion


(WGN) — Is it COVID-19 or allergies?

We’re in the midst of a tricky season. Allergies that should be winding down are lingering. And while another threat, COVID-19, makes a slow exit, crossover symptoms are causing confusion this spring.

Bright, beautiful blooms are all around. And the trees are pollenating like champs during what’s been a stellar spring.

“When you see those little things hanging down from the trees and the little yellow dust that gets sprinkled on our cars and the side of the road, that’s all the pollen,” said Dr. Rachna Shah, with the allergy and immunology department at Loyola Medicine. “Our pollen counts are at high levels. But in particular, we’ve had a very prolonged tree season.”

The process that should be wrapped up by mid-May is taking its sweet time in 2021. Streaks of warmer temperatures followed by cooler days have extended the pollination process.

“It’s basically taking its time now fully blooming,” Shah said. “And we see that in our backyards and parks and other things, trees aren’t fully bloomed yet. We don’t see big leaves on trees. So it’s been this long, drawn-out season.”

The pollen meters on some rooftops confirm the abundance of evidence in the air and on the ground.

“This time of year, we typically see moderate counts. I may see 50 tree pollen granules on the slide,” Shah said. “But what I’m seeing this year are hundreds for this time of year. We would normally see that in April, but by this time of year, it should be winding down. And they just aren’t, and we see no end at this point.”

While that means we get more time to enjoy the spectacle, the downside is a steady and more severe stream of allergy symptoms. Or is it COVID symptoms?

“One symptom that I find overlaps quite a bit is nasal congestion,” Shah said. “And sometimes people can get stuffed up to the point where they have headaches. They can even have loss of smell if they get stuffed up and develop a sinus infection. And sore throat. And it’s very confusing. Is it COVID or seasonal allergies?”

But the one sign that separates the two ailments? Itching.

“Itchy symptoms like the itchy, watery eyes, sneezing or itchy throat. Those we don’t see with COVID. We typically see those with seasonal allergies,” Shah said.

She said don’t stay inside and miss out on healthy activities. But do close the windows at night to keep the allergens out. Rinse off after being outdoors. And if you’re still suffering, try over-the-counter products first.

“Like antihistamines. Zyrtec, Allegra, Claritin. There are certain nose sprays that are also very helpful,” Shah said. “And if still you’re suffering from allergy symptoms, go see an allergist. There’s lots of treatment options.”

If you’re not clear on the cause of your symptoms, Shah suggests getting tested for COVID-19.

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