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April 17, 2020
This is a strange and serious moment in history. Just a few months ago, almost no one had heard the term “social distancing.” Now, it’s part of our everyday vernacular—and our everyday lives. With shelter-in-place orders and social distancing measures in effect across most of the United States, we’re all adapting to our new, more housebound lifestyles. And with that has come some unexpected side effects.
We’re not talking about quarantine memes, juggling conference calls with childcare, or increased wine intake. We’re talking about symptoms like itchy, watery eyes, sniffles, and sneezes. And with COVID-19 spreading in communities worldwide, most of us are anxious and on edge. What are these symptoms? Why are they happening? Could it be the virus, or just allergies?
(We got help from our resident allergist, Dr. Lakiea Wright, who broke down the symptoms of COVID-19 vs. the flu vs. allergies, if you’d like to take a look.)
For chronic allergy sufferers, these symptoms may feel familiar. For people experiencing these symptoms for the first time, or for whom allergies aren’t a frequent problem, they may be more alarming. Either way, it’s important to assess where you’re currently spending a whole lot of time. Because if you’re suddenly home all day instead of in an office or restaurant or other workplace, that means you could be soaking in allergic triggers you’re not normally exposed to, 24/7.
Remember that if you suspect you have COVID-19, you should call your provider first to let them know. In case of an emergency, call 911. And if you’re experiencing any respiratory symptoms, you should do your best to completely self-isolate.
The average person’s home is a minefield of allergic triggers that can cause respiratory symptoms in individuals sensitized to them. In the bedroom and on carpets and upholstered furniture, dust mites are a common problem. Indoor mold is another possibility, especially in more humid climates. And if you have a furry friend like a cat or dog, they may be a great source of emotional support, but they are also filling your house with pet dander (yes, even the so-called hypoallergenic ones).
Pause now and think about where you’re spending the most time in your house. Are you working from the upholstered couch with your dog curled up next to you? Are you in a carpeted office next to a set of dusty drapes your grandma gave you?
There’s no time like the present to do some spring cleaning and remove potential allergen sources. If the whole house or apartment seems overwhelming, just focus on the room where you spend the most time, or try to work somewhere without soft materials, carpets, or your cat directly on your face.
Maybe you’re dealing with the claustrophobia by going for a long walk or run every day. That’s great, as long as you’re staying more than six feet away from people who aren’t members of your immediate household. Getting outside and exercising are two of the best things you can do for your mental health.
But, it’s also spring. That means it’s pollen season, and if you’re suddenly sneezing a bunch, seasonal allergies are a likely culprit. Going outside for long stretches of time can expose you to all the spring pollen your geographical region has to offer. Across different parts of the states, spring allergy season can begin as early as February and last through the summer.
We’re all going to be social distancing and sheltering in place for a while still. And those are really important measures in the effort to control the spread of COVID-19. But there are concrete things you can do now to help mitigate allergic symptoms in this new normal:
Call your primary care doctor to set up a telehealth or phone appointment to discuss your symptoms. This is especially important if you have asthma, as allergies and asthma go hand-in-hand. Especially now, it’s essential to reduce the underlying allergic inflammation that can lead to allergic asthma.
Only once it is safe and appropriate to do so, as determined by local authorities and your healthcare provider, make an appointment (over telehealth or in-person) to have your provider order an allergy blood test. Along with your history, getting an allergy test is the best way to have a full picture of all your allergic triggers. This will make exposure management much easier for you—after all, if it turns out you’re allergic to dust mites but not the cat or dog, that’s one less thing to worry about.
Remember that we are in this together. Taking these small steps to create the best work-from-home environment for you and your family may help reduce symptoms in these uncertain times. Keep in mind that it’s now more important than ever to be mindful of your health—and take care of the small things before they become big things.