Spring is in the air and so are seasonal allergens. Before COVID-19, parents wouldn’t think twice about sending kids to school with a sniffle and some tissues but, now, deciding whether a stuffy nose is from pollen or the onset of COVID-19 is a real concern for families as spring begins to bloom.
“Allergies are common. With about 40% of kids and adults having some form or nose or eye allergies, it’s not surprising that some kids will be feeling the affects of tree, grass or ragweed pollen as the seasons change,” said Brian Schroer, MD, director of allergy and immunology at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Regardless of the pollen type, the most common symptoms of allergies are sneezing, nose itching, nose congestion and nose dripping. It’s important to note that drainage from the nose with allergies is ALWAYS clear and watery.”
COVID-19 symptoms can cause nose congestion, and at times be clear, watery drainage, however it does not cause nose sneezing and itching.
“COVID-19 has a very common symptom of decreased sense of smell in adults. Nose allergies never decrease your sense of smell,” said Dr. Schroer. “It’s also important to note that despite nose allergies due to pollen being called ‘hay fever,’ a fever is never present in allergies and hay is not the major cause. COVID-19, on the other hand, can definitely cause fever.”
COVID-19 is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a viral infection that can cause a wide range of flu-like symptoms whereas seasonal allergies are triggered by airborne pollen and primarily lead to sneezing, runny or itchy nose, nose congestion and itchy or red eyes. Some allergy sufferers with asthma may also have coughing and wheezing, but typically seasonal allergies affecting the nose don’t cause shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, which is the case with COVID-19.
If you know your child has seasonal allergies, the best treatments can be discussed with your provider, but may involve daily doses of oral antihistamines, nose sprays and eye drops. Dr. Schroer explains the benefits of each:
- Nose sprays such as fluticasone, or triamcinolone work well to treat sneezing, itching, congestion and dripping. They work best if taken daily.
- Eye drops are fast-acting and work well as needed. They work best if taken daily, if needed.
- Oral antihistamines such as loratadine, cetirizine or fexofenadine treat sneezing and itching, but not as well as nose sprays. They do not treat nose congestion or dripping.
Dr. Schroer also points out that while masks may not completely prevent allergen exposure, wearing one may also help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms.
As kids change, so can their sensitivity to allergens. If you suspect your child has allergies, speak with your primary care provider to determine if testing is recommended. By knowing which allergy triggers are the worst for kids, parents can try to manage symptoms and lessen the stress a stuffy nose can bring in the midst of a pandemic during allergy season.
If your child presents with COVID-19 symptoms or you think he’s been exposed to COVID-19, keep him home and contact your primary care provider. For allergy testing, diagnosis and treatment, contact Akron Children’s Center for Allergy and Immunology at 330-543-0140.