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Allergies or COVID-19? What we know about symptoms a year later

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    TORONTO, Ontario (CTV Network) — As temperatures gradually rise and spring begins, another seasonal visitor looms on the horizon – allergies.

While Canada continues to implement measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the virus variants, Dr. Jason K. Lee of the Toronto Allergy and Asthma Clinic says it’s paramount to get allergy symptoms under control to know the difference between whether you’ve contracted coronavirus or just have allergies.

“In general, usually people with allergies have a long history with seasonality, if you’ve had this before you’ll have this reoccurring,” Lee said on CTV’s Your Morning Monday. “There’s more nasal symptoms, runny nose, congestion, chains of sneezing [associated with allergies]…with COVID-19, as it’s an infection, fever and what we call constitutional symptoms of chills, muscle aches — those are more likely to point to COVID-19.”

Lee said that coughing and shortness of breath is also more associated with coronavirus infections but there are a “few caveats here or there,” depending on what type of asthma and allergies people have.

One of the most important things doctors have learned a year into the pandemic is that allergy sufferers are “more likely” to be more potent spreaders of COVID-19, Lee said.

“If you have allergies and you get COVID-19 it’s more likely that you’re going to aerosolize it by sneezing – so it’s very important to control your symptoms” Lee explained, noting that if you leave allergies untreated it can pre-dispose you to getting infections in general.

Lee also noted that because there is overlap in some cases of allergies and COVID-19 symptoms, the surest way to know the difference is to get tested – which will help avoid increasing the risk of infecting other people. The Public Health Agency of Canada continues to advise people to stay home and avoid others if they feel sick.

Lee also said that doctors had found that some people were “hesitant” to take their asthma or allergy medication but urged people to maintain their usual course of prescriptions, citing data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that says having asthma may put people at risk for more severe outcomes with COVID-19.

For children who suffer from allergies, it’s even more critical to get a handle on their symptoms, Lee said, as a runny nose is enough for schools to demand a COVID-19 test.

“Manage your symptoms as much as possible – if you’re on the right medications you should be able to control them by and large,” Lee said, adding that if the child’s symptoms persist “it’s best to get a specialist appointment.”

Global warming may also present an extended challenge for allergy sufferers, Lee said.

“Seasonal pollen counts are getting higher as the growing seasons tend to get longer, the seasons are starting a little bit earlier and lasting a little bit longer,” Lee explained, adding that the tree and grass seasons tend to overlap.

“If you’re unlucky and you have both tree and grass allergies you might get a bit of a double whammy effect.”

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