May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month because this month is the peak season for allergy and asthma sufferers. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two. And these days we have to add COVID-19 to the mix. The symptoms for asthma, allergies and COVID-19 can be quite similar. So how can you tell the difference?
In addition, it’s important to know the difference, because asthma and allergies aren’t contagious. The coronavirus is. If you’re coughing and sneezing when you’re out in public (even with a mask), people are going to look askance at you, and maybe even move away.
So our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter want to help you sort out the confusion that might arise if you begin experiencing any of these symptoms.
Let’s start with asthma, which affects an estimated 23 million Americans, or about eight percent of the population.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes airways (bronchial tubes) to narrow and swell, and produce extra mucus. Symptoms can include:
- difficulty breathing
- shortness of breath
- chest tightness
If you have symptoms of asthma, know that they can be controlled. It is important to treat asthma, because if left untreated, it can cause long-term lung damage or result in a life-threatening attack. If you have frequent coughing or wheezing not associated with a cold, or your asthma symptoms worsen, be sure to contact us for an evaluation.
If you have seasonal allergies, you probably already know the typical symptoms:
- itchy, watery eyes
- runny or stuffy nose
Allergies are typically confined to the eyes and nose, and almost never produce a fever or shortness of breath (unless you have asthma). Symptoms of allergies tend to be relatively mild, and when they’re pollen-related, occur at the same time every year.
If you are allergic to other typical allergens such as animal dander or dust, your symptoms will vary according to your exposure to them. Such allergies can also induce a cough. But again, if you have seasonal allergies, you probably have them on a regular basis and are aware of the symptoms.
Although COVID-19 has its own set of distinctive symptoms, many of them overlap with asthma, allergies, and even colds and flu.
For example, the loss of the senses of taste and smell, which occurs in between 65-85 percent of those with COVID-19, can also happen with allergies and colds when the nasal passages become blocked.
The list of COVID-19 symptoms is much longer than for the other two conditions. To make it even more confusing, not everyone will have all these symptoms. And some, of course, are infected with the coronavirus and never show symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- dry cough
- tiredness or weakness
Less common symptoms include:
- sore throat
- stuffy or runny nose
- diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
- muscle or body aches or pains
- loss of taste or smell
- a rash on skin, or painful blue or purple lesions on fingers or toes
Serious symptoms include:
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- chest pain or discomfort
- loss of speech or movement
- newly confused or can’t wake up
- bluish tint on lips, face, or fingernails
This list does not include all possible COVID-19 symptoms. If you have any of the serious symptoms listed above, seek medical attention immediately.
How to tell the difference
You can see from the above lists how much the various symptoms overlap. Often there’s no way to know what’s causing your symptoms without a diagnostic test.
One tip-off would be whether you have a history or asthma or allergies, or whether your symptoms are brand new.
“If you tell us, ‘I’ve never had allergies before, but I went to a dinner party last week and I found out that three people tested positive for COIVD, and now I’m getting symptoms that I have not experienced—congestion, stuffy nose, feeling a little bit tire,’ that’s very different [from] someone that tells you the same sort of symptoms with no new exposure, but in fact, a long history of allergies,” Jody Tversky, an assistant professor of medicine and former clinical director of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Johns Hopkins University, told The Washington Post.
Another clue is the presence of a fever, Tversky said, usually anything above 100.4 degrees. Fevers are typically associated with a viral illness, not with allergies or asthma.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) offers a helpful chart on its website comparing the most common similar symptoms of COVID-19, colds, flu, seasonal allergies, and asthma.
If you have any questions or concerns, and especially if you have a fever and a cough, let us know right away.