It’s beautiful outside. And it’s allergy season! 🙁
With warmer weather and windy conditions of late, many people are suffering with bothersome and even debilitating symptoms such as itchy red eyes, sneezing, cough, nasal congestion, runny nose, headache, fatigue and scratchy throat.
But since we are in a pandemic, we also need to be concerned whether these symptoms might be due to COVID-19, especially since its presentation can vary from completely asymptomatic to severe illness and everything in between, including the above mentioned symptoms!!
As the beginning of this year’s pollen season coincides with yet another increase in coronavirus infections, I would like to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about allergies, the coronavirus and vaccines. Please keep in mind that as research into the virus and vaccines continues, guidance may change.
Covid or allergies? Answers to your questions about symptoms and vaccines:
1. How do I know if it’s allergies or Covid?
It’s important to differentiate, because if it is viral, every time you cough or sneeze, you are spreading respiratory droplets that can infect people. Allergies on the other hand are not contagious.
There are key differences that help determine what is causing your symptoms:
- Fever: Though fever is not a predictable metric for whether you have Covid, it would be highly unusual for a person with allergy symptoms to develop a fever. If you have allergy-like symptoms and a fever, be suspicious.
- Loss of senses: It would be extremely unlikely for allergies to cause one to lose their sense of smell and taste – again, if you have allergy-like symptoms with loss of taste and smell, be suspicious.
- Corresponding factors: It’s useful to assess your symptoms with other factors and to not rely on symptoms alone – i.e. do you have a history of allergies, what is the timing of your symptoms and is there any possibility that you have been exposed to the coronavirus?For example, if you have never had allergies but went to a dinner party and now are experiencing symptoms you did not previously have – congestion, stuffy nose, feeling tired – be suspicious. This is very different from someone with the same symptoms, no new exposure, but with a long history of allergies happening around this time.
When in doubt, get tested.
It also may be helpful if you do suffer from seasonal allergies or asthma, to start preventative measures (such as acupuncture!) before allergy season arrives. During a pandemic, it is more important than ever to at least have your allergies and asthma under control, so that the body can more easily navigate what we are faced with in the time of Covid.
2. Does having allergies increase my risk of contracting Covid?
There is no scientific evidence that suggests having allergies puts you more at risk for catching Covid. But, if your allergy symptoms are not being managed and calmed, your immune system is working overtime and views pollen etc. as an enemy that you must be protected from.
Controlling your allergies takes a burden off of your immune system and saves its resources for more important jobs, like protecting you from Covid and developing a proper immune response from the vaccine. If you have allergies and want information about what you can do at home to calm your symptoms, please feel free to ask me!
That said, if you currently have allergy symptoms – runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes and scratchy throat etc. – it is not a reason to skip getting vaccinated.
Additionally, if you do suffer from allergies, continuing to practice risk mitigation strategies like masking, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings continues to be important.
3. Should I be vaccinated against COVID-19 if I have allergies?
Yes!! A common misconception among people with allergies is that they can’t safely be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Unless you are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine, there is no reason to avoid it. Also, people with seasonal allergies are not at increased risk for developing side effects or serious side effects just because they have allergies.
If you have a history of anaphylaxis or reactions to non-coronavirus vaccines, you are still safe to get vaccinated and will be observed for an additional 15 minutes – total of 30 minutes, post injection to monitor for any adverse reaction. If in doubt, please discuss with your primary care.
4. How should I prepare for my vaccination?
People with nasal or sinus allergies often have asthma. If you have asthma, it is strongly recommended that you get your asthma under control before taking the vaccine.
5. What if I get regular allergy shots? How should I schedule my vaccine appointment?
Avoid getting your allergy shot and the coronavirus vaccine on the same day. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology recommends separating the shots by 48 hours.
The reason is simply so that there is no confusion about any potential reaction. There is no scientific evidence that having the two injections on the same day is contraindicated or unsafe.
6. Will my allergy medication have an effect on my immune system’s response to the vaccine?
Common over-the-counter allergy medications such as inhalers and antihistamines should not have an impact on your immune system’s ability to respond to the vaccine. But if you are taking regular high doses of oral or injectable steroids, you should consult with your doctor.
Steroid medications suppress the immune system. This is sometimes necessary when a person is having a flare-up of allergies, asthma or autoimmune conditions. Because of their suppressive action, they will interfere with the body’s reaction to the vaccine, which is designed to increase the immune systems defenses to help fight Covid.
Ideally, it’s best if you don’t need steroid medication during the window of time that you get vaccinated – but sometimes it is necessary to be on such medication and may be unavoidable. In such a situation, though you may not have the most robust immune response, it is still going to be better protection than if you are not vaccinated.
7. What if I have an allergy to one of the vaccine ingredients?
If you have an allergy to an ingredient(s) in a particular coronavirus vaccine, it is important to not “write off” getting the vaccine altogether. With multiple vaccines, there are alternatives/options. If you have an allergy to the component of one vaccine, please speak with your doctor and/or get evaluated by an allergist and discuss if there is a safe alternative vaccination strategy for you.