In many parts of the U.S., spring is in full bloom. And with the arrival of spring comes an increase in seasonal allergies and now questions about increased risk related to COVID-19.
"Currently, there is no data to substantiate those patients with allergies and asthma are at an increased risk for contracting COVID-19," says Dr. Arveen Bhasin, a Mayo Clinic allergy and immunology specialist.
Allergies, which affect millions of people, occur when a person's immune system reacts to a foreign substance, such as pollen, pet dander or certain foods. Asthma is a condition that causes airways to narrow and swell, and produce extra mucus.
"Allergies in particular are very different from COVID-19 with respect to the sudden onset and symptoms of COVID-19," says Dr. Bhasin.
Typical seasonal allergy symptoms include itchy, watery eyes; itchy, runny nose; sneezing; nasal congestion; and postnasal drip. "COVID-19 is going to cause symptoms of fever, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and potentially some GI upset. Allergies don't cause those symptoms," says Dr. Bhasin.
Journalists: Sound bites with Dr. Arveen Bhasin are in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy "Arveen Bhasin, M.D. / Pulmonary Medicine / Mayo Clinic."
Though asthma can make breathing difficult, and trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, Dr. Bhasin says most patients would recognize an attack and, again, not have a fever. “Patients should be aware of their asthma triggers, maximize hand hygiene and minimize social interactions,” she says.
Her recommendation for patients with allergies or asthma is to continue with their usual treatment plan.
To help manage allergy symptoms, Dr. Bhasin recommends a change of scenery and over-the-counter medication. "With seasonal pollen allergies, for instance, you may find that your symptoms improve if you go indoors and decrease your exposure. Over-the-counter antihistamines can help also," she says.
Also, continue to use inhalers and nasal sprays.
"There's been some concern about whether steroids increase the likelihood of either contracting the virus or spreading the virus, and there is no literature to substantiate that," says Dr. Bhasin. "There are also no concerns we've been able to identify regarding nasal sprays or saline irrigation. The recommendations are to continue."
For effectiveness, Dr. Bhasin says, make sure you're using nasal sprays properly and wipe the nozzle down after each use. "And do not share your nasal sprays with anybody else in the household."
Dr. Bhasin's top tips for asthmatic patients are:
If you are sick or you have concerns that you may have contracted COVID-19, Dr. Basin says that you should contact your health care provider.