A message from Dr. Helena Swinkels, Office of the Chief Medical Officer
Have you noticed just how many people seem to have seasonal allergies right now? I am very lucky that I do not get allergies, but it seems to me that half the people around me are suffering with a runny nose, sneezing, itchy watery eyes and/or a scratchy throat.
With a colder-than-normal spring, many allergy sufferers are having symptoms at different times than they normally would. Some may even be wondering whether their sniffles, sneezes and congestion might be something a whole lot worse—like COVID-19.
It has become increasingly difficult to tell the difference as new COVID-19 variants emerge. While colds and other viruses (including COVID-19) tend to spread more in the winter, many viruses continue to circulate even in summer. Sneezing, nasal congestion and a sore throat have become more common symptoms associated with new Omicron variants.
There are, however, some clues that can help you tell the difference:
Common allergy symptoms include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes, itchy nose or ears, post-nasal drip (which can sometimes cause a mild sore throat), and mild fatigue (not including drowsy-causing allergy medications).
COVID-19 – Along with other cold symptoms like sneezing, you are more likely to have a fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, intense fatigue, body aches, and a loss of smell.
While many symptoms overlap, some important ones do not. People with allergies do not develop a fever, whereas people with COVID-19 often do. Allergies typically make people feel itchy, while that feeling is not a symptom of viral illnesses such as COVID-19, influenza, or the common cold.
Listening to your body and knowing your own history can help you. People who experience allergies often have a history of getting them at roughly the same time every year. Those allergy symptoms tend to be more long-lasting than viral symptoms and they often respond to your usual over-the-counter allergy medications. You may also notice your allergy symptoms getting worse after being outside on the lawn, doing yardwork or cleaning out a dusty shed or other activities.
The only way to know for sure whether it is your allergies or COVID-19 is to do a rapid COVID-19 test. If your allergies seem worse than usual, you have new or different symptoms, or there is a sudden unexpected change in your symptoms, testing can help bring peace of mind that it is your allergies and not a COVID-19 infection. Testing is particularly important for people who may be eligible for COVID-19 treatment, if you are planning to visit family or friends on a summer holiday, or you have been in contact with someone with COVID-19. If you test negative, a second test a couple of days later can confirm the result.
The best way to protect yourself is to be sure you've had both your primary series of COVID-19 vaccine (dose one and two), and your booster shot if it's been more than six months since your second dose. The vaccines will ensure that even if you do get COVID-19 you are less likely to feel very sick or require hospitalization. And even if you have had COVID-19, adding the vaccine gives you optimal protection, called “hybrid immunity".
Seasonal allergies aside, if you're feeling at all worried that you may have a viral illness, this doctor's advice is to stay home until you feel well. Resting your body and staying away from other people is a good way to stop the spread. Your future self will thank you.
For information on COVID-19, including symptoms, testing and vaccination, you can visit FNHA.ca/coronavirus.