Penn Medicine: Summertime Allergies or COVID-19?

Source: Central

Maybe it starts with a tickle in your throat. Or perhaps you can’t stop sneezing or your nose just won’t stop running. For a second, you wonder: “Do I have the coronavirus?”

Seasonal allergies — or allergic rhinitis — affect as many as 60 million adults and children throughout the United States. They develop when the body’s immune system overreacts to mold spores and pollens from grass, trees and weeds. Seasonal allergies typically occur in spring, through early fall and cause a range of symptoms.

Despite often being referred to as hay fever, seasonal allergies don’t cause fevers. Typical symptoms of season allergies include runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing, red or watery eyes, and itchy eyes. And while both the coronavirus and allergies can cause tiredness and fatigue, there is little overlap of other symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, headaches, body aches and pains, diarrhea, chills/repeated shaking, and loss of taste or smell.)

Additionally, seasonal allergies come on fast, while symptoms of coronavirus may start gradually and then worsen over time.

Relief from seasonal allergies can often be found in over-the-counter medicines that reduce symptoms. Steroid nasal sprays can significantly reduce nasal congestion as well as sneezing, itching, and a runny nose without the side effects of steroid medication taken by mouth or injection.

Nasal sprays and antihistamines (which counter the effects of histamine, the chemical your body releases when you have an allergic reaction and makes you itch and sneeze) are widely available over the counter, and depending on the severity of your symptoms, may be all you need to find relief. Your doctor may also recommend decongestants, eye drops, and saline nasal sprays, and in some cases, prescription strength medicine may be necessary.

People who suffer from severe allergies or who experience side effects from medications may consider immunotherapy. This treatment approach, typically administered through a series of injections over time, is designed to help your body build a resistance to the specific allergens that trigger your symptoms.

• Stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are at their peak, usually during the midmorning and early evening and when wind is blowing pollen around.

• Avoid using window fans that can draw pollen and mold into the house.

• Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to minimize the amount of pollen getting into your eyes.

• Don’t hang clothing outdoors to dry as pollen can cling to towels or sheets.

• Keep windows closed and use air conditioning in your car and home.

To find a primary care physician affiliated with Penn Medicine Princeton Health, call 1-888-742-7496 or visit

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