Allergies or COVID-19: How to decipher underlying causes of symptoms

For those experiencing allergies, Dr. Sumit Bose of Baylor Scott & White Health said symptoms are typically cyclical and can be predicted based on the time of year. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
For those experiencing allergies, Dr. Sumit Bose of Baylor Scott & White Health said symptoms are typically cyclical and can be predicted based on the time of year. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

For those experiencing allergies, Dr. Sumit Bose of Baylor Scott & White Health said symptoms are typically cyclical and can be predicted based on the time of year. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Summertime in Central Texas brings more than just ample sunshine. From May through September, grasses, mold and ragweed allergies are in peak seasons.

As a result, runny noses, nasal congestion, sinus headaches and coughs are common staples with symptoms that can carry well into the fall.

However, backdropped against the coronavirus pandemic, seemingly innocuous symptoms such as coughs and chest pressure can also be affiliated with COVID-19.

Dr. Sumit Bose specializes in allergies and immunology at Baylor Scott & White Health and said there is a significant amount of overlap between COVID-19 symptoms and allergies. He said the key to differentiating between allergies, asthma and COVID-19 is both in how the symptoms arise and additional side effects a person might be experiencing.

"I think you have to kind of look at the context of the presentation of symptoms. Allergies and asthma usually are either chronic or intermittent, " Bose said. "With regards to COVID-19, I think this is more of an acute presentation. A cough and shortness of breath are two of the common symptoms, but usually there's some other symptoms that are associated with COVID-19."


For those experiencing allergies, Bose said symptoms are typically cyclical and can be predicted based on the time of year. Similarly, Bose said allergies and asthma frequently go hand-in-hand, a condition referred to as allergy-induced asthma.

While symptoms of the coronavirus can vary slightly from person to person, Bose said most people who test positive for COVID-19 experience a fever or chills, shortness of breath, body aches, nausea and diarrhea. Symptoms such as a fever and gastrointestinal problems typically are not affiliated with allergies or asthma, he added.

With weed allergies and flu season in the fall, Bose said allergy sufferers need to be proactive in seeking treatment now to provide needed alleviation during their worst allergy seasons. Consistency in treatment can also shed light on whether a patient is experiencing severe allergies or a more serious respiratory condition, Bose said.

"I think it's paramount for [patients] to act ahead of time and get on their allergy and asthma medications so they know that their allergies and asthma are being managed appropriately," Bose said. "And if, despite taking their medications, they're becoming symptomatic, it would indicate that maybe there's something wrong."

Treatments for allergies range from over-the-counter medications and eye drops to immunotherapy centered around tablets or allergy shots. For asthma, most patients typically use inhalers for symptom relief.

With regards to whether asthma can put a person at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, Bose said it is a complex issue. Any upper respiratory condition can trigger an asthmatic flare-up, Bose said; however, the risk of mortality is not necessarily greater.

"It can make your asthma worse," Bose said. "But there have been some studies that have been done on patients with COVID-19 and underlying asthma. If you look at the numbers alone, it doesn't necessarily mean that because you catch COVID-19, that your mortality or risk of death is going to be higher than somebody else who has another condition."

Heading into the fall, Bose stressed the importance of receiving a flu shot, especially for people with allergies or asthma. The symptoms of the flu closely mirror those of COVID-19 and can lead to severe or fatal health complications. Especially with regards to COVID-19 and area hospital systems, Bose said a flu shot is a simple but effective way in preventing overcrowding.

"COVID-19 will be here with us for the foreseeable future until we get some sort of a vaccine for it," Bose said. "I think the one big thing that any patient can do—and especially patients with allergies and those in particular with asthma—they should definitely consider getting the influenza vaccine in the fall because it is a preventable illness."

By Kelsey Thompson
Kelsey Thompson is the reporter for Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto, where her work focuses on education, city government and community development. Originally from upstate New York, Kelsey relocated to Austin after graduating from Syracuse University in May 2019.


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