(BPT) - Allergy season is causing congestion, coughing, itchy eyes and other classic symptoms for people across the country. However, this year brings new concerns as COVID-19 has dramatically impacted everyone's lives, and people with asthma and allergies have many questions.
"With the coronavirus pandemic coinciding with allergy season, many people with asthma and allergies have questions about symptoms, risks and medication," says allergist Dr. J. Allen Meadows, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). "It's more important than ever to use medications to control symptoms while taking precautions to stay healthy. Remember that your allergy symptoms usually happen annually. So if symptoms seem familiar and you've had them in the past, there's a pretty good chance it's your allergies at work again."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers asthma to be one of the chronic illnesses that may increase the chance of a severe case of COVID-19. Here's what you need to know if you or a family member suffers from asthma:
Respiratory viruses trigger asthma flares
Respiratory viruses are the most common trigger for asthma flares — the severe worsening of the condition that typically requires oral steroids to relieve symptoms. Not all viruses affect asthma patients equally and some viruses such as influenza and rhinovirus are more likely to trigger asthma flares than others.
"Right now, we don’t know if COVID-19 is one of those viruses that tends to trigger an asthma flare," says Meadows.
There's not a higher risk of contracting COVID-19
Currently, there is no clear evidence that patients with asthma are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. However, asthma is an underlying medical condition that may be associated with more severe disease if you are infected with this virus.
"ACAAI recommends that anyone with allergies or asthma should follow CDC guidelines such as using a face mask while in public, keeping an appropriate distance from others, washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth," says Meadows.
Asthma and allergy medications don't increase COVID-19 risks
You may be concerned about using your intranasal corticosteroids for nasal allergies and your inhaled corticosteroids or biologic therapy for your asthma. There is no data to show that continuing these allergy and asthma medications will have any effect on increasing your risk of getting COVID-19, or if you get the infection, lead to a worse outcome.
"It's more important than ever to take medications and control allergy and asthma symptoms because they may lead to misdiagnosis of COVID-19 as there is some overlap of symptoms," says Meadows.
Take precautions if you do get COVID-19
It is important if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 (or suspect you may have COVID-19) and are using a nebulizer at home, that you know the virus may persist in droplets in the air for 1-2 hours. Therefore, you should use a nebulizer in a location that minimizes exposure of droplets to members of your household who aren’t infected.
"Choose a location for your treatment where air is not recirculated into the home," Meadows says. "Places like a porch, patio or garage with surfaces that can be cleaned more easily are good options."
Reach out to an allergist with questions
Allergists recommend people with asthma stay on medications to control symptoms. If you have questions about your symptoms or current medications, contact your allergist. Many now offer telemedicine where they meet with you remotely via video or phone. And many telemedicine visits are covered by insurance.
"Allergists are asthma specialists. They can help answer questions, provide guidance and ease concerns regarding both asthma and allergies. You can find a local allergist at acaai.org/locate-an-allergist," says Meadows. "If you do become infected with COVID-19, use caution and avoid experimental treatments unless the treatment is specifically recommended by the physician caring for you."