Cough, red eyes and runny nose… Is it the fault of Covid-19, the flu or pollen allergy?

The weather is pleasant, the temperatures are mild and like every year, spring has brought the pollen out of its bag, which tickles the nostrils of allergy sufferers. Currently, some fifty departments are on red alert due to birch pollen, highly allergenic. At the same time, pollution figures in coronavirus remain very high, and the epidemic of seasonal fluUsually finished at this time of year, he’s playing overtime after a late start.

Viruses and allergies in simultaneous circulation

This spring of 2022 is full of good reasons to blow your nose. “The good and mild weather this week will favor the dispersion of pollen, especially birch. Consequently, the risk of allergy will be high in much of northern France,” says the National Aerobiological Monitoring Network (RNSA).

And as spring allergies appear, the Covid-19 pandemic continues under the impact of the highly contagious subvariant BA.2 of Omicron, with “more than 135,000 new cases diagnosed on average per day”, underlines Public Health France in its latest epidemiological bulletin.

At the same time, the flu epidemic seasonal, at the end of this year, is not over yet. If it is “stable in seven regions, and decreasing in Brittany, it is increasing in five regions (Centre-Val-de-Loire, Ile-de-France, New-Aquitaine, Occitanie and Pays-de-la-Loire)”, it continues Public Health France.

Common symptoms, but different triggers

The figures prove it, one month after the end of the mandatory use of the mask in closed public places (with the exception of public transport), viral contamination and allergic manifestations. But “if certain symptoms are common, the triggering situations are different,” he explains to 20 minutes Sophie Silcret-Grieu, allergist. The symptoms of birch pollen allergy are those of all respiratory allergies (birch or grass pollen, dust or even cat hair). The best known is rhinitis, which manifests as sneezing, nasal congestion with clear discharge and itching, itching in the back of the throat and even in the ears, she describes. This is very often associated with conjunctivitis, especially due to tree pollens which, in addition to being allergenic, are irritating: we have red, watery and itchy eyes. All this gives rhinoconjunctivitis, or hay fever. And if symptoms worsen, it can cause coughing, and even asthma if you are predisposed. This can take the form of a hacking cough, or even a full-blown asthma attack with severe shortness of breath and wheezing.

Runny nose, red eyes and cough: symptoms that can also be experienced in case of Covid-19 or seasonal flu. However, “allergy symptoms are characteristic because they occur every year at the same time, in March-April, and are of variable intensity depending on the climate: the more pleasant and dry the weather, the more severe the symptoms.” “Because the trees then release more pollen, continues the allergist. Allergic patients recognize the associated signs well.”

The coronavirus and seasonal flu, for their part, present “suggestive symptoms – fever, body aches, great fatigue, headaches, cough – that make us think that we are dealing with a respiratory virus, adds Dr. Silcret-Grieu. Of course, in case loss of taste and smell, the diagnosis will lean towards the side of the coronavirus. The same goes if you have cases of Covid in your environment. In any case, a screening test will shed light on the contracted virus. Instead, the peculiarity at the moment is that you can have everything: be allergic to birch trees and contract Covid-19 or the flu.”

Masks and ventilation are required.

Then for protect against allergies to pollens such as viruses, reflexes can work in all cases. If the use of the mask indoors has proven effective against Covid-19 and the flu, “using it outdoors somewhat limits the passage of pollen directly to the nose,” adds the allergist. Many patients say that it helps limit nasal symptoms. Washing the nose with sea water also protects. A gesture that helps dislodge pollen, but also mucus and bacteria. Also, “rinsing your face with water and brushing your hair when you get home helps keep pollen off the bed” and interfere with sleep, Dr. Silcret-Grieu prescribed.

For allergy sufferers, “in an acute situation, it is recommended to take antihistamines”, advises the allergist. And if the symptoms return every year, you have to consult, take stock and, if necessary, set up desensitization”. Finally, “if there is no cross-protection between these pathologies, they have in common the generation of inflammation of the respiratory tract and covid as well”, recalls Dr. Silcret-Grieu. As we know, patients who have had Covid-19 may have destabilized respiratory function, and asthmatics and allergies may, after contracting the coronavirus, observe an increase in their asthma for a few weeks.

Therefore, to breathe air that is less loaded with pollen and microbes, ventilation is essential. But if it is recommended to ventilate closed spaces regularly to protect yourself from Covid-19 and the flu, in the face of pollen, it is better to open the windows “early in the morning or late at night”, recommends the RNSA, at times of the day when there is less pollen in the air.

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