Feeling run down this spring? Is it allergies or could it be COVID-19?

BOSTON — We are almost three weeks into spring and the coughing and sneezing have begun for many.

“Stuffy, runny nose, itchy eyes,” said Back Bay resident Michelle Kane. “It’s bad, it’s beautiful outside but you just can’t enjoy it, but now there’s [a] drug for that. There are prescriptions I could take to hopefully be able to breathe a little better.”

“Probably sneezing the most,” said Kingsboro resident Elizabeth Allred. “I would say the pollen.”

So how do you know if it’s the budding trees or if it’s COVID-19 causing it? Those symptoms are never fun, but during a pandemic, they are downright confusing.

“A lot of the symptoms are almost identical but some things that are unique to allergies are itchy symptoms, itchy eyes, nose, throat, ears,” said Dr. Purvi Parikh, allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network. “Then some things that are more unique to COVID-19 are any viruses, fever, any loss of smell and taste, body and muscle aches, and stomach symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also unique to COVID.”

She said if your symptoms are just dry cough, sore throat, stuffy nose and sneezing, it could be either, so you’ll want to get a COVID-19 test.

“We do get tested when we’re feeling sick, but we think we social distance pretty well so I’m not usually worried,” Kane said. “I definitely felt a little bit of paranoia last year when we first started and everything kind of shut down right when spring was starting. This year, not so much, I think I’ve gotten over the paranoia.”

Doctors say sometimes allergies have a more gradual onset while, COVID-19 can come on more quickly, especially if you know you’ve been around someone else who is sick.

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“Even I’ve been fooled too because some people, you know, it’s just like their usual cough they get every year, and then I had one patient it did turn out to be COVID-19, but the majority of people know their symptoms. They know when it’s starting so that’s another reason we get them on the preventative medicine early,” Dr. Parikh said. “As soon as you start feeling something you can start treating yourself with over-the-counter [medicine].

“Oral antihistamine tablets are very good, things like Allegra Zyrtec, Claritin, all those are all very good. And then there are certain nasal sprays, you can also get like antihistamine eye drops as well.”

Dr. Parikh said the treatment is even more crucial in a pandemic since allergies can make you more likely to catch COVID-19 and vice versa.

“Your nose and your lungs are already inflamed trying to fight off pollen or another allergen, then they’re kind of weak,” Dr. Parikh said. “Your defenses are weaker against the virus, so it’s like a combination of things. Having the allergies makes you more likely to catch viruses and being sick with viruses can actually even make you more allergic over time because they leave behind inflammation in your airwaves.”

For people trying to fight off allergies, she said the best bet is to have preventative medications even before the season starts.

“There is a cherry blossom tree right outside my window, and when I see it kind of starting to bloom, I immediately run and take my Claritin, and I take that every day until those trees are gone.”

Dr. Parikh said preventative measures include getting vaccinated. She said that will at least clear up some confusion between allergies and COVID-19. She said that allergies can also trigger asthma and asthma attacks, which can be dangerous.

So if you’re having breathing problems, like coughing, wheezing or chest tightness, don’t manage that on your own, go seek medical attention.

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