With spring setting in and temperatures warming up, allergy season is on the rise. It may be an uncomfortable time for allergy sufferers to be experiencing allergy symptoms as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
According to National Jewish Health Allergist Flavia Hoyte, MD, “Most people who have allergies know what their allergies feel like and when they tend to peak.”
Some allergy symptoms, like nasal congestion or runny nose, also can be symptoms of viral infections such as a cold or COVID-19. With COVID-19, however, allergy-like symptoms are usually accompanied by respiratory symptoms, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, chills, and/or a fever.
Allergies generally will not affect the lungs unless a patient also has allergic asthma. Allergies also typically do not cause chills, fevers, muscle aches or extreme fatigue.
“Individuals who have never had springtime allergies and are suddenly miserable from nasal symptoms and/or fatigue should consider contacting their provider,” said Dr. Hoyte.
Compare symptoms of allergies versus other viruses, like COVID-19, with this chart.
By the end of March, allergy patients are already experiencing heightened allergy symptoms, according to Dr. Hoyte. “In Denver, late March is tree pollen season. Tree pollen is high and will continue this way for the next couple of months.” Each tree’s pollen peaks at slightly different times, so allergy symptoms may vary month-to-month for a given individual, or may develop a few months in a row for certain patients.
The next pollen to cause allergy symptoms is grass pollen in the summer months, followed by weed pollen season, which starts in late summer/early fall and continues until the first hard frost.
Pollen counts are affected by the weather. “The weather needs to be warm enough to encourage plant growth and pollination,” said Dr. Hoyte. “Windy days cause pollen to blow around, making it more likely for someone to breathe in pollen or have it settle in their eyes and nose, leading to increased allergy symptoms.”
While it is actively raining, pollen settles, which may give those with allergies a break from symptoms on rainy days. Unfortunately, pollen counts can increase in the following days because the rain helps plants grow.
It can be very tempting to rub your eyes when they water or wipe your nose as it runs. However, it is very important to avoid touching the face, even if you think it’s only allergies causing your symptoms. The COVID-19 virus and other viruses are easily contracted when germs are transferred from the hand to the eyes, nose or mouth. If you must touch your face, first thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and then use a tissue to wipe your eyes or nose instead of using your bare hands. Discard the tissue immediately after, and wash your hands again.
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Dr. Hoyte notes that many patients with mild allergy symptoms can treat their symptoms with over-the-counter medications.
Dr. Hoyte recommends reaching out to your primary care provider or allergist if:
“Patients should discuss with their care provider whether any of the symptoms they are experiencing could represent COVID-19 rather than allergies and whether they need to be seen,” explained Dr. Hoyte.
Patients with mild allergy symptoms should avoid going to urgent care centers or the emergency room. Resources at these facilities are needed by individuals with more severe symptoms or who need to be hospitalized.
“If you aren’t sure if you have COVID-19, you could actually put yourself at risk of getting the virus by going to an emergency room or urgent care for concerns that can be addressed in the outpatient setting,” Dr. Hoyte said.
Check in with your primary care provider or allergist if you are concerned about the severity of your symptoms. If you believe you need medical evaluation or to be tested for COVID-19, contact your primary care provider first.
This information has been reviewed and approved by Flavia Hoyte, MD (February 2022)
The information on our website is medically reviewed and accurate at the time of publication. Due to the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, information may have since changed. CDC.gov and your state’s health department may offer additional guidance.