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Allergies vs COVID-19: Doctor gives tips to differentiate

Photo courtesty of WCHC

Dr. Matthew Prihoda offers tips for differentiating between COVID-19 and allergies as the two are both effecting community members.
Photo courtesty of WCHC Dr. Matthew Prihoda offers tips for differentiating between COVID-19 and allergies as the two are both effecting community members.

COVID-19 has hit the public the same time as allergy season. Differentiating between the two can be difficult but Dr. Matthew Prihoda, Family Practice Physician at the Washington County Hospital and Clinics Family Medicine Clinic, provides tips and insight for those in need.

One of the biggest indicators someone is suffering from allergies and not COVID-19 are the symptoms.

“Although COVID-19 can illicit multiple upper respiratory symptoms, the most common would be fever (usually higher than 100 degrees), harsh cough and shortness of breath that can be tight or painful,” he said in an email. “Typically allergies are predictably seasonal with itchy or watery eyes, sneezing and a runny nose. They can involve the lungs so people can have a cough and wheezing symptoms depending on their sensitivity to allergens.”

They are also transmitted two different ways. While COVID-19 is through the transmission of respiratory germs, allergies are triggered by pollen.

“Allergies are caused by allergens floating in the air or on surfaces that stimulate an immune response to the upper respiratory system. It is not a contagious/infectious process,” he said. “It is yet unknown for sure why the elderly have more serious complications to COVID-19 although thought to be because of their declining organ vitality, especially of the lungs.”

A big misconception about COVID-19, the coronavirus, is that it is the same as the flu. Dr. Prihoda said there are many similarities such as both being an upper respiratory virus, similar symptoms and both transmitted from human to human, but there are many differences as well.

“The unique properties about COVID-19 are its longer incubation time, slower progression of symptoms, its predilection for the older population and severity of illness. Data from the World Health Organization suggest that mild disease is seen in 80% of patients. 15% will manifest more significant lung affects requiring oxygen support and as high as 5% can be fatal,” he said, mentioning the latter statistic is based on the national health care system but in the United States the fatality rate is closer to 1-2%.

“In contrast, deaths from influenza are far less frequent, closer to 0.1% of patients. However because of the widespread nature of seasonal influenza there can over 50,000 deaths annually including far more children in this subset,” he said.

For allergy sufferers, Dr. Prihoda recommends avoidance, barrier methods, medication and immunotherapy. Changing air filters, vacuuming and separating from pets can help. Face masks are not practical but can be a great barrier for those suffering, he said.

“The newer second generation antihistamines and/or nasal steroid sprays work very well for most, with much less side effects and less frequent dosing than the older medicines like Benadryl. Check with your doctor. For those with severe symptoms which last most of the year, you might check with your provider about allergy testing for highly effective immunotherapy,” he said.

Anyone who thinks their symptoms may be signs of COVID-19 is advised to stay home, rest and take Tylenol for body aches, as long as their care provider approves it he said.

“By far, most people will resolve symptoms in seven days although it can be longer. If symptoms worsen, especially with higher temps, shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing, call your provider about next steps to further evaluate,” he said.

Those who may need to go in for a test will have their nasal cavity swabbed. There is no blood test and the entire procedure takes less than five seconds, he said. The results can be returned anywhere from hours to days, depending on the reference lab.

Overall, Dr. Prihoda advises the public to keep up the social distancing and to abide by the guidelines of continuing to wash hands, cover the mouth when coughing and staying six feet away from people.

“Avoiding face touching really does saves lives, including potentially your own. For now, stay home and be smart. We can beat this together, but apart,” he said.