It’s that time of year again, when eyes are itchy, noses are runny, and you can’t seem to escape that lingering cough. Spring is in full bloom in the Golden Isles and if you feel that your seasonal allergies are especially bad this year — you’re not wrong, and you’re also not alone. In a study released in February by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found a strong link between planetary warming and pollen season, detailing that climate change is responsible for longer pollen seasons in the United States as well as more pollen in the air.
According to the study, the combination of warming air and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has caused the North American pollen season to start an average of 20 days earlier. In addition, there’s been a 21% surge in pollen production than what was reported in 1990. The greatest pollen increase came from trees as opposed to grasses or weeds, with the most affected areas being seen in Texas, the Midwest, and the Southeast.
Pollen counts will continue to soar throughout May and into the first week of June when grass pollen peaks. July should bring some reprieve, but until then, many are left wondering if the symptoms they are experiencing are allergies or COVID-19.
Board-certified internal medicine physician, Brandi M. Wynne, M.D., Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Primary Care, says there are two telltale signs between seasonal allergies and COVID-19 – itchiness and fever. “While both will produce a cough and congestion, allergies will bring about more itching in the nose and throat, along with watery eyes and sinus pressure,” says Wynne.
Fever, achiness and extreme fatigue are symptoms of COVID-19 that aren’t associated with allergies. Additionally, Wynne points out that COVID-19 patients can have gastrointestinal symptoms — nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea — which are rarely seen with seasonal allergies.
While allergy season is certainly annoying, typically it does not put you at a higher risk when dealing with COVID-19, unless you suffer from asthma that is triggered by seasonal allergies. Patients with chronic respiratory issues should remain cautious during peak allergy season, as heightened pollen exposure could pose a threat to their breathing.
If you are allergic to pollen, or if you have asthma, you can take steps to protect yourself:
• Check pollen forecasts on local news and online sources and plan to stay inside when pollen levels will be high.
• Take your allergy and/or asthma medications as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
• Wash your hands before touching your eyes when you are outside.
• Shower and change your clothes after being outdoors to remove pollen from your skin and hair.
• Keep windows closed when pollen levels are high.
• Use high-efficiency filters in your home’s air conditioning system.
By the time Independence Day, July 4th, comes around, we should all be able to breathe a sigh of relief — at least until cold and flu season returns. In the meantime, keep the tissues and allergy medications close by and try to enjoy the great outdoors.
Wynne recently joined Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Primary Care, located in the Medical Plaza adjacent to the Health System’s Brunswick Campus, and is accepting new patients. To learn more, visit sghs.org/primary-care or call 912-466-7470 to schedule an appointment.