Allergies or Virus?

June 2, 2021
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Most of us have become much more aware of the slightest tickle in the back of the throat, a runny nose, and especially a cough.  Are these symptoms due to allergies, or a viral infection (including Covid)? Sometimes it may be difficult to tell the difference.  Allergic rhinitis (commonly known as hay fever) is due to an overreaction of the body’s immune system to certain environmental triggers. These triggers may be seasonal (caused by airborne tree, grass and weed pollens and/or molds), or year round triggers (caused by animals, dust and certain molds). Currently the prevalence of allergic rhinitis is estimated to affect 15-30% of adults and children in the United States.  

What are the symptoms of allergic rhinitis?


Common symptoms include red, itchy, watery, and sometimes swollen eyes, itchy nose and sneezing. These symptoms are much more common of allergic rhinitis than with viral respiratory tract infections. Other symptoms that can overlap with respiratory viral infections include cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, headache, sore throat, nasal congestion and runny nose. Typically, with allergic rhinitis the nasal discharge is watery, thin and clear but with viral infections it tends to be yellow or green and thick.  Despite the name hay fever, allergic rhinitis does not cause a fever, but this can be a common symptom with viral infections.  


How is allergic rhinitis managed and treated?


Management of allergic rhinitis includes avoidance measures, to limit your exposure to potential allergen including:  

  • Keeping windows closed during high pollen count days, and running the air conditioner
  • Keeping animals out of the bedroom, washing hands after petting animals
  • Using dust mite protective bedding and dehumidifiers
  • Wearing sunglasses outside to protect the eyes from pollen


And certain medications including:

  • Intranasal corticosteroids
  • Antihistamines
  • Allergy eye drops


What should you do if symptoms are not well controlled with avoidance measures and medications?


You can speak with an allergist and undergo allergy testing to identify your specific allergen triggers and discuss treatment options including medications and allergy immunotherapy.