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Allergy sufferers may feel on alert

FAIRMONT – Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some people with allergies might wonder if the symptoms they’re experiencing are related to seasonal allergies or the novel virus.

Dr. Jennifer Johnson, a family medicine physician with Mayo Clinic Health System, said that while some signs and symptoms are the same, there are a few red flags that can signal COVID-19. The most common are fever, cough, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Other symptoms can include fatigue, aches, runny nose and sore throat, though Johnson pointed out the virus can affect people differently and some have no symptoms at all.

On the other hand, people with seasonal allergies may experience runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy or watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, swollen eyes or itchy throat.

“A lot of those symptoms overlap. The big symptom differentiators are fever and shortness of breath. It’s really unlikely that seasonal allergies would cause either of those symptoms,” Johnson said.

She said allergies also tend to build gradually over several days whereas COVID-19 symptoms appear suddenly.

“As always, anyone who’s not sure of symptoms and trying to figure it out should contact their health care provider. We can help determine whether we need to test for COVID- 19 based on your signs and symptoms,” Johnson said.

As of right now, she said Mayo is screening patients based on their symptoms and testing people whose symptoms are consistent with the virus.

“We have been hearing from some patients who have seasonal allergies, asking whether or not they’re at an increased risk for contracting COVID-19. Currently we don’t have any data to substantiate that. As with almost anything with COVID-19, the situation is fluid and we may learn differently later on,” Johnson said.

While the risk of contracting the virus is not higher for people with allergies, she said people with moderate to severe asthma might be at a higher risk for becoming severely ill from the virus. This includes people whose asthma is related to allergies.

Johnson said COVID-19 can affect the respiratory tract — nose, throat and lungs — and trigger an asthma attack, and even lead to pneumonia or acute respiratory disease.

She said Mayo recommends that people who have allergies or asthma continue with their treatment plan. For allergy symptoms, this usually includes staying indoors and decreasing exposure to outdoor allergens, such as pollen.

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