This story was inspired by audience questions about allergies and COVID-19. Ask your question here.
It’s allergy season in Northern California, and having a runny nose or itchy eyes while the coronavirus crisis is happening can be unnerving. But how do symptoms from allergies differ from the flu or COVID-19?
Fever. That’s the main difference, says Travis Miller, a physician with the Allergy Station in Roseville.
“This is a perfect storm, at least in Northern California. We have agriculture and pollen and spring is here,” said Miller. “We're still in flu season and now there's another virus, so everybody's coughing.”
There are overlaps between allergy symptoms, flu and coronavirus, such as nasal drip, congestion and sore throat. But having a fever is the kicker, Miller said.
“There's also a symptom, which we see with seasonal allergies that's very uncommon with viral infections, and that would be itchy or red eyes,” said Miller. "You don't usually get itchy or eyes with viral infections.
He isn’t aware of any reports of itchy eyes linked to COVID-19. Without proper testing he’s not comfortable differentiating between the flu or coronavirus because so many of the symptoms — like muscle aches — mirror each other.
He says “being constantly vigilant about symptoms” during allergy season, especially if you have a fever, is important this spring.
Warmer weather this winter caused plants to bloom and in turn many people had allergy-like symptoms early, he said. Anyone with seasonal allergies — like red itchy eyes or a light cough — should take their temperature and remember how their allergies felt in years past.
“Those historical recollections can be quite useful when evaluating patients, especially at a time like this if they've had previous nasal congestion, itchy eyes,” said Miller. “If they're acute symptoms out of nowhere that include fever, shortness of breath, dry cough or something like that then we have to approach this in a totally different fashion.”
But when it comes to the flu he says it's harder to tell the difference between it and COVID-19. That’s why he recommends anyone with symptoms to self quarantine and get tested. Even though the majority of people with symptoms aren’t getting tested, he says the best thing to do is to call your healthcare provider for medical advice.
“The reason being is that muscle aches and fatigue are very predominant symptoms of influenza,” he said. “Those are actually very predominant symptoms of coronavirus … there's a lot of overlap between influenza and coronavirus.”
For people who worry about experiencing asthma, Miller says he’s working with patients to keep them in the healthiest condition.
“If your asthma is not controlled, and you get any viral infection, things can go south very quickly,” said Miller. “Fourteen or 21 days from between now and then, we're definitely advising our patients to communicate with their health care providers, and make sure that their background in allergy and asthma is under excellent control.”
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