HEALTH MATTERS: Figure out if you have seasonal allergies, a cold or COVID | Health, Med. & Fitness

By Mary Chamberlin and Amy Umble

IT LOOKS like spring is finally here to stay and many of us have already been dealing with the sneezing and itchy, watery eyes that go along with seasonal allergies. But, with COVID still circulating in our communities, how do we know when symptoms we may have are just allergies, a cold, or COVID-19? The Virginia Department of Health created a very handy (print and stick on your fridge kind of handy) chart that lists the typical symptoms of seasonal allergies, colds, COVID-19, and even strep throat at bit.ly/3EVgkv0.

Because a COVID infection can present with such a variety of symptoms, the absence of certain symptoms is not a definitive sign that you don’t have COVID-19, unfortunately. If you’re up to date on your COVID vaccination, it can be even more difficult to tell if your symptoms mean you may just have a cold, because COVID-19 symptoms may be more mild for you. Experts recommend considering the context of your symptoms. For example, do you usually deal with worsening allergy symptoms this time of year? If so, are you experiencing any symptoms that are new to you? Could you have recently been exposed to someone who had COVID-19?

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Fortunately, testing for COVID-19 is widely available, so you don’t have to find yourself guessing. Every US household is eligible for eight free test kits from covid.gov/tests, and pharmacies and medical facilities continue to provide rapid and PCR testing for COVID-19: bit.ly/3s0avai. Keep in mind that if you test negative for COVID-19 and are still experiencing symptoms a few days later, it’s best to retest. Always err on the side of caution, too, by staying home when you’re sick and wearing a mask if you must be around other people. Even if it turns out you just have a cold, you’re helping to prevent the spread of the virus you have.

If you are dealing with pesky seasonal allergies, they can also affect mental health and mood. Your body is working harder to stay healthy—and yet you feel worse. Additionally, allergies can produce brain fog. The impacts could be significant. Go easy on yourself. If you’re lucky enough to skip out on hay fever, have patience for the people in your life who suffer from allergies.

Sunshine boosts most moods, so it can become a delicate balancing act of getting sunshine and fresh air while avoiding pollen. If possible, avoid going outside on windy days when it will be impossible to avoid pollen in the air. Also plan to get your vitamin D in the early morning or late afternoon, when pollen counts tend to be lower. And when you’ve been outside, make sure to shower before bed to get all of the pollen off.

Also make sure you get plenty of rest and stay hydrated.

Mary Chamberlin is the public information officer for the Rappahannock Area Health District. Amy Umble is communications coordinator for Rappahannock Area Community Services Board. Both organizations serve Fredericksburg and Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties.

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