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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 14, 2020
Dear Dr. Wong: I have severe seasonal allergy. Every spring and fall, I will sneeze and cough for weeks. I have a nose spray that I use from time to time, but it doesn’t work. I have tried many over-the-counter allergy medications; they don’t help much, and I get sleepy.
It has not been a big deal until now. Every time I go out, people would stare at me. I know what they think. I tell them that it is just my allergy; I don’t have COVID-19 infection, but they won’t believe me. I am going out as little as possible, following the pandemic rules. However, the way people react to my allergy makes me very uncomfortable. Is there anything else that I can do to control my allergy better?
Answer: I am very glad that you asked this question. You are right, many of us have allergies in the spring and fall. Some of the symptoms of this coronavirus pandemic are very similar to the symptoms of allergy. When they see you cough, they just see the big sign, “COVID-19”, on your forehead.
Seasonal allergy is very common in the spring and fall. For most people, the culprit is mould in decomposing vegetation in the ground. When the snow melts, these mould spores are released into the air and trigger sneezing, watery eyes, running nose, itchy throat and a cough in those who are susceptible. This happens every year, with varying degrees of severity. It can go into late spring and early summer, when pollens fill the air.
Depending on the severity of allergy symptoms, steroid nose spray can help to reduce allergy symptoms in the nose. These nasal sprays need to be used consistently once or twice a day throughout the allergy season.
For those with more severe allergy, these sprays alone may not be sufficient. Long-acting antihistamines can be helpful. These are newer medications that were designed to control allergy symptoms for 12 to 24 hours. They have a less sedating side effect compared with regular antihistamines. Many of these long-acting antihistamines are available over the counter, at lower dosages than prescription antihistamines, to ensure their safety for general public.
If you have severe allergy, these over-the-counter long-acting antihistamines may not be effective for you. You will need to contact your physician to get the prescription strength. The higher doses are still very safe; you won’t be congested, sneezing and coughing all the time. Without these allergy symptoms, people around you will not suspect that you may have COVID-19 infection.
You may also need inhalers for your cough, especially steroid inhalers that can reduce inflammation in the bronchial tubes. An allergy in the bronchial tubes can cause inflammation, resulting in mucus production, irritation and cough. You need to contact your doctor for prescription of these inhalers.
If you leave the allergy unchecked, it can lead to sinus infection, headache and fever. These are some of the same symptoms of COVID-19 infection. This is another reason you should take steps to control your allergy symptoms. Having a seasonal allergy will not make you more susceptible to COVID-19 infection. However, getting allergy symptoms under control will reduce suspicion and reaction from others when you are out and about. You should still follow all the pandemic precautions.
Dr David Wong is a retired pediatrician in Summerside and recipient of 2012 Distinguished Community Paediatrician Award of Canadian Paediatric Society. His columns will appear in the Guardian on the last Tuesday of every month. You can see a collection of his previous columns at askdrwong.ca. If you have a question for Dr Wong, please mail it to Prince County Hospital, 65 Roy Boates Ave., Summerside, P.E.I. C1N 2A9.