Pandemic doesn't delay allergy season

Joe Hadsall, The Joplin Globe, Mo.
·3 min read

Apr. 24—Allergy season has arrived. In Missouri, that season practically lasts until December.

"We are in a bad area for those inhalant allergies," said Dr. Nathan Box, an otolaryngic allergist for Freeman Health System. "Springtime is trees, summertime is grass and fall is ragweed. We have a triple dose."

Box said his office has started to receive elevated numbers of calls over the past few weeks — a high number of patients are reporting symptoms and seeking treatment. Other areas of the country, such as Colorado, deal with fewer types of allergenic cycles.

However, if it feels like allergy season is getting worse year after year, research supports that notion.

Pollen season is starting about 20 days earlier, and pollen loads are about 21% higher, when compared to 1990. According to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences published in February, a significant portion of that increase can be tied to global warming.

As the Earth gets warmer, according to the study, spring starts earlier for plants and animals, giving pollen-producing plants an extended period. and those plants release even more pollen when they get more carbon dioxide.

Other studies have also shown the continent's allergy season getting longer and worse, according to an Associated Press report.

But those changes have been gradual. The effect of COVID-19 on allergy sufferers has been instantaneous — mainly from people nervous about whether their symptoms are their usual allergic reactions or signs of a new disease.

Dr. Nicole Sleiman, an infectious diseases specialist with Mercy Hospital Joplin, said that although the two have some commonalities, allergy sufferers and COVID-19 patients also have some clear differences between symptoms. The presence of a fever is one, she said.

"You should never have a fever with allergies," Sleiman said. "Just because you have a fever doesn't mean you have COVID. But allergies don't cause a fever."

Seasonal allergic reactions that have nothing to do with COVID-19 also include red or itchy eyes. and COVID-19 symptoms that have nothing in common with such allergic reactions include a shortness of breath and a loss of taste or smell, Sleiman said.

Box said that although allergies can cause flulike symptoms of fatigue, they do not usually lead to body aches that some COVID-19 patients report.

People suffering from allergies are encouraged to try over-the-counter remedies first. Box recommended nondrowsy antihistamines such as Zyrtec, Xyzal, Claritin or Allegra. He also recommends the use of a nasal saline rinse or topical nasal sprays such as Flonase or Nasacort.

If treatments such as those don't do the job and symptoms worsen, that's when advanced diagnostics such as skin tests or allergy shots might be warranted.

"If symptoms are getting so bad that people can't get out of bed or the activities of daily life are really impeded upon, then that's when we think about skin testing," Box said. "I want to make sure we've exhausted all the other options."