Coughing or sneezing in public has always been part of allergy and flu season, but today people might get a worried glance from their fellow citizens if they show any symptoms that are related to COVID-19.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority has published a list that compares the symptoms of COVID-19 with those of allergies.
According to the SHA list, fatigue, sore throat, shortness of breath and congestion are symptoms that can occur sometimes in both cases.
Runny noses, which are commonly associated with seasonal allergies, are rare in cases of COVID-19.
Itchy and watery eyes, and sneezing are also commonly associated with allergies, but are not COVID-19 symptoms.
Challenges for people with allergies
For people with allergies, it hasn't been an easy fall.
Shannon Stumph said the smoke from forest fires has been irritating her allergies and she's been on the receiving end of funny looks if she coughs or sniffles in public.
"I have taken probably way more allergy medication in the last few months than I have in my entire life, just so that I can avoid that in public."
Especially in the spring and fall, coughing, itchy eyes, a scratchy throat and a runny nose are not unusual reactions of her body.
Usually the Regina woman chooses more natural alternatives to treat her allergy symptoms, like teas. Now she wants to make sure that the symptoms are always allergy-related. If she is unsure, she takes an allergy pill to see if symptoms go away within a certain time period.
"It's on me, too, to just make sure that I'm actually healthy."
The Saskatchewan Health Authority also recommends on its website that if your go-to allergy medication does not work to improve symptoms in the usual timeframe, your should stay home and call the Health Line or your physician in order to arrange a COVID-19 test.
Stumph believes there will continue to be a stigma during COVID-19 toward anybody who coughs or sniffles in public.
"It would be great if those of us who have allergies would have T-shirts to wear when we go out in public ... that just say, 'Oh, it's allergies,' or something like that."
The Saskatchewan Health Authority notes that the information on the chart is broad and "does not apply to every individual circumstance." People should contact their physician for advice if they have questions about their situation.
People who have had allergies chronically for years often know the difference between their allergy symptoms, a cold or a flu, according to Stumph.
"I'm stuffed up every single morning when I wake up, regardless of what's going on," she said.
Seasonal allergies in schools
Seasonal allergies with COVID-like symptoms can be particularly challenging for school children.
Regina Catholic Schools, for example, asks families to use their daily screening questionnaire each day, which also lists symptoms such as runny nose.
Parents should talk to the principal or teacher if they know that a symptom is specific to another condition, said spokesperson Twylla West in an email.
"Depending on the situation, we will react accordingly," she said.
"A school might ask for a doctor's note, as we will always err on the side of caution while conducting the business of education during a global pandemic."
Reducing exposure to allergy triggers
According to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, people suffering from seasonal allergies can also try to reduce their exposure to things that trigger allergies. This includes:
Staying indoors on dry, windy days.
Delegating lawn mowing and other gardening chores to others.
Showering after spending time outdoors.
Washing outdoor clothes.
Closing windows at night.
Using high-efficiency filters in the furnace.
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