Telling allergy and COVID symptoms apart

Mark Gutman/Daily News Leaf buds coming through on trees

ROCHESTER — You may be out on a spring day when you start experiencing symptoms that could be mean COVID-19 or simply allergies.

How can you tell the situations apart? That was one of the topics Dr. Peter Capucilli, allergist and immunologist for Rochester Regional Health, talked about during a Zoom call Wednesday with the media.

“I think with the severity that we’ve seen with COVID, erring on the side of being extra safe is probably the way to go in general,” he said. “Symptoms that are usually specific to allergies are things like itchy nose, itchy eyes, sneezing,” he said.

A person may also experience these symptoms with COVID-19,” Capucilli said.

“I would say, if you’re having any of those things, especially if you haven’t been an allergic individual previously, it’s probably better to be thorough and be tested for COVID. Speak to your doctor if you’re having concerns, if you’re having new symptoms,” he said.

Capucilli said the other symptoms that would probably tip a person off to be more worried about COVID versus having allergies might start with actually feeling sick.

“Generally, patients who have allergies, the symptoms can be quite evasive, but you don’t feel like you are necessarily sick with a cold or that you’re under the weather in that way, like you’re having an acute illness,” he said. “You should not be getting fevers with allergies.”

Allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions) can have an impact on breathing, especially in patients who also have asthma. But with COVID and respiratory symptoms being a major issue doctors are seeing, Capucilli said, “I think if there are any symptoms like that that are developing, then you should be thorough about making sure that COVID is not the problem in the first place. Then, potentially seek out further care for your allergies.”

Should people who have appointments for a COVID vaccine, but are also taking allergy medications worry about interaction between the vaccine and the medications?

Not at all, the doctor said.

“We are absolutely having all of our patients who are taking allergy medications, we’re recommending that they go ahead and get the vaccine,” he said. “It’s safe to be on antihistamines, nasal sprays, eyedrops and still get your COVID vaccine.”

The doctor was asked, with everyone wearing masks right now, will allergy season will be less intrusive right now than normal?

“It’s possible. We certainly have patients who have been using facemasks to combat the seasonal allergies well before COVID. Probably the best example of that are patients who will note that while they’re cutting grass, they have to wear a facemask just to get through it because their allergies to grass are so significant,” he said.

Overall, the doctor said, allergens will manage to affect people, though.

“I do feel like we’ll still have a significant allergy season. We are already starting to see the beginnings of that now as we’re getting into early April.”

Capucilli said this is just about the time we should see symptoms of allergies, because the trees are starting to bloom and other things happening.

“Hopefully it will be a less significant season, but I imagine it will still be there,” he said.

Asked about suggestions for people how people can stay active this allergy season, Capucilli said the first thing is they should make sure their prescriptions are up-to-date and that they have refills on the medications they know will help them.

“I usually like to tell my patients that starting after Valentine’s Day, that’s a really good marker of when to just say, ‘OK, now is the time to get prepared and start having those medications available,’” he said. “We know allergy season can hit really hard and quickly when the trees start to drop all their pollen. Having those medications ready to go can be helpful.”

The doctor was also asked whether it’s accurate to say that there will be a higher-than-normal pollen increase.

“Those levels do fluctuate, There are probably a lot of factors that go into it,” he said. “Generally, with global warming being a factor that we’re seeing also plays into it a little bit. We very well could see a higher pollen count this season as well.”

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