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As allergy cases ramp up, how do you tell the difference between allergies and COVID?

The new variant often resembles a wicked cold with similar symptoms to seasonal allergies. What you need to know to tell them apart.

CLEVELAND — It’s finally Spring in Northeast Ohio and while we’re all enjoying the return of warmer temperatures, spring flowers and all things green, chances are the sniffling and sneezing has come back too.  Especially for those dealing with Spring Allergy season.

Meanwhile the BA 2 and newer BA 2.12.1 COVID variants are pushing cases numbers up again across the country and here in Ohio. 

The good news is that while the variants are highly contagious, for most healthy people, the worst is a wicked head cold.  You know what else feels like a wicked head cold at times?  Spring allergies. 

So how do you know the difference?

Unlike COVID-19, seasonal allergies aren't caused by a virus, they’re triggered by an immune system response to allergens, such as tree or grass pollen.  But there are some differences, so do a symptom check.

Both can cause sneezing and coughing.  But only allergies will give you those itchy, watery eyes.  Allergies will NEVER give you a fever, muscle aches, vomiting or diarrhea, but COVID might.

While COVID-19 can cause shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, allergies don't usually cause these symptoms unless you have a respiratory condition such as asthma that can be triggered by pollen exposure.

The trick to treating seasonal allergies is to get ahead of them.  That means if you haven’t started over the counter or prescription antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays and decongestants, you might want to start.  If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor. 

Seasonal allergies may last several weeks, so avoiding exposure is best, but let’s be real, that’s often impossible.

If the allergies make your life utterly miserable, keep the windows closed and turn on the AC or a fan to keep cool.  

Avoid going outdoors on dry, windy days.  The best time for relief is after a good rain which clears pollen from the air.

Pay attention to the pollen count the WKYC weather team reports daily.  Or find it on the Academy of Medicine of Cleveland and Northern Ohio pollen line. https://www.amcno.org/pollen-count

Make washing your face a habit several times a day.  Pollens can stick to your face and get into your eyes or nose.  Wash your hands often too to protect from both allergens and COVID.

If your nose is dry or constantly stuffed up, you might try a saline rinse or Neti pot.  It can help wash pollens out of your nasal passages and moisturize your nostrils.

Avoid lawn mowing, weed pulling and other gardening chores that stir up allergens or hold off until the pollen settles down.

If you must do those chores, wear a face mask.  You likely still have some laying around thanks to COVID.

Afterward, remove clothes you've worn outside and then take a shower to clear the pollen from your skin and hair.

Don't hang laundry outside — pollen can stick to sheets and towels.

If you think allergy seasons are getting worse, you’re not wrong.  Experts at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center say climate change may be to blame.

The warming climate and increased carbon dioxide levels in urban areas are leading to longer pollen seasons and higher pollen counts.

If you can’t get your allergies under control, talk to your doctor about immunotherapy.  Allergy shots over a three-to-five-year period may help you find relief permanently.

However, keep in mind, scientists have identified about a hundred ‘new’ allergens in the last three years.

Now back to COVID.  As the weather warms up, so does party season.  Graduation parties, weddings and other summer holiday parties will soon be heating up.  

If you’re the host, best bet is to hold them outside if possible.  We know the new COVID variants are highly transmissible, so even keeping that six-foot distance indoors may not be enough according to Cleveland Clinic infectious disease specialist, Dr. Daniel Culver. 

If you’re coughing and sneezing and you’re not sure if you’ve been exposed to COVID or if it’s just seasonal allergies, he advises to get tested.  Either by doing a home test or at a health center.

It’s a good idea to test a day before you attend an event too, such as a wedding, and then test again three days later.

If there’s a chance you may be around someone who is immunocompromised, or you yourself have an underlying condition, opt for the PCR test at a pharmacy or health center. Those tests are more accurate than the quick home antigen tests.

Editor's note: the video above is from an unrelated story posted on May 9, 2022.

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