In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it may be difficult to tell whether your sniffing, fatigue or dry cough is a sign of Covid-19 disease or just an allergy.
According to Prof Michael Levin, head of the allergy division at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and CEO of Allergy Foundation SA (AFSA), the pandemic has been the source of anxiety for most people, particularly those with long-term allergic disorders such as asthma, hay fever and coeliac diseases.
But experts warn that if you have no fever, body aches and/or diarrhoea then you probably don’t have Covid-19.
With the world commemorating World Allergy Week from Sunday, June 28 to July 4, Levin says there is potentially harmful misinformation around coronavirus and allergies circulating.
“Patients are unsure about symptoms and whether their allergies increase the risk of serious Covid-19 complications. We want to reassure people and enable them to manage their allergies as well as possible during this time.”
Dr Candice Royal from KidsAllergy Paediatric and Allergy Centre in Cape Town said one important message for allergy sufferers is to take good care of their health as uncontrolled allergy disorders such as asthma could result in complications.
“Allergic disorders are systemic diseases and should not be looked at in isolation. They can be well-managed with education, correct medication and ongoing support from your health care professional. Whilst people with uncontrolled asthma may be in a high-risk group for severe illness from Covid-19, recent studies have shown this is not the case in well-controlled asthmatics.”
She said symptoms of allergies and Covid-19 can be similar, which has been a source of concern for many, “yet fever, body aches and pains, which are usually experienced during coronavirus, are rarely related to asthma”.
Royal said adhering to prescribed therapy, whether there are symptoms or not, “helps repair swelling and inflammation in the lungs so that you’re better able to fight off viruses — including the coronavirus”.
There was no evidence that the use of inhaled or nasal steroids increases one’s risk of contracting Covid-19. Royal said instead, using nasal decongestants regularly might even help prevent people from getting the infection or from suffering with more severe symptoms. But nebulisers were not recommended, as they could increase the risk to those around one.
Levin advises using an asthma pump with a spacer, rather than a nebuliser. “Spacers deliver medication to the airways more effectively than a pump on its own.”
For people with skin or eye allergies, itching may mean touching and potentially increase the risk of infection. To prevent this, experts recommend regular skincare and steroid use as needed while also maintaining excellent hygiene measures — washing hands regularly, always wearing a mask and maintaining social distance.