Allergy Anxiety: How seasonal sniffles are affecting mental health during the pandemic
Pollen season is upon us, and for allergy sufferers, the timing couldn't be worse this year. Over the past month and a half, on multiple occasions, I have awoken to a sore throat and immediately thought, "Well, this is it; I finally caught COVID".... only to be fine later that day or the next.
But until I knew that it was just my seasonal allergies playing mind tricks on me, I had to deal with a brief period of overwhelming nerves and anxiety. It was not fun. Many thoughts crossed my mind, ranging from rational, "How can I prevent infecting the rest of my household?" To extreme, "Is my life going to be in danger?"
Thanks to our friend the internet, I quickly discovered that I am far from alone. I found several online threads, from Facebook to Reddit, about people who have been fooled into thinking they were about to join the growing number of coronavirus cases.
So what can we do to avoid jumping to conclusions when we feel a throat tickle or develop a cough? Dr. Leonard Bielory, Professor of Medicine, Allergy, Immunology and Ophthalmology at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, says that the most important thing in determining what you have is to do a good job recognizing your symptoms.
Let's start with the original three symptoms of COVID-19: shortness of breath, fever, and cough. The first two rarely accompany seasonal allergies. While cough is a little bit tougher as it is can be a product of both, a COVID cough has proven to be deeper and often accompanied by breathing difficulties.
Recently, however, the CDC added six new symptoms of the virus: chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell. While none of these are widely associated with seasonal allergies, this can now cause confusion between the novel coronavirus and the common cold or flu.
This pathogen has proven to be unpredictable with its effect on people, ranging from mild to severe symptoms, to none at all. So, it is extra important to be in tune with your body during this time.
Another key factor is distinguishing between allergy and virus comes down to the effectiveness of allergy medications. Say you develop a common symptom and want to rule out the more serious of the two. If it is nothing more than a product of pollen, regular allergy remedies (pills, sprays, etc.) should clear things up, literally and figuratively.
So if you feel something coming on, try not to panic and jump to any conclusions. Take a breath, and make sure to do a thorough symptom check. If you can rule out signs of viral infection, it's likely you're just sneezin' for a normal reason this season!