WAYNE — Flowering plants, blooming trees and the smell of a freshly trimmed yard are among the most welcoming signs of spring weather entering the area. But they also signal higher pollen counts.
For many Appalachians, specifically in West Virginia, who are already dealing with the widespread novel coronavirus, seasonal allergies may present a unique set of challenges.
“One of the concerns we have in our area is that we’re going to peak right in the midst of spring allergy season. West Virginia has the highest per-capita rate of asthma, and if you can think of anything that isn’t good, it’s for us to peak at that time, but we can’t help that,” said Dr. Kevin McCann of the Wayne County Health Department.
Pollen can be an easy trigger for some seasonal allergies, as a plant’s only form of reproduction is carried in the air in massive quantities and can land in a person’s eyes, nose and lungs and on the skin. Blooming trees, budding flowers and grass are among the other major spring allergy triggers.
Allergy-related symptoms are common around this time each year. McCann said that paying close attention to those common symptoms can be key in knowing the difference between allergies and a virus.
“I think the best rule of thumb that I would share with patients is can they tell a distinct difference now versus something they’ve had before,” McCann said. “Take that with a tincture of understanding that we’re all very anxious, and anxiety can heighten our senses.”
While virus-related symptoms and allergies can occur individually, there’s a possibility of overlap with both seasons expected to peak near the end of April or early May.
When in doubt, McCann advised people to call their health care provider. But people with asthma and underlying respiratory issues could benefit from taking extra precautions when outdoors.
“It’s reasonable to think that people who are going to, say, mow the grass would wear a mask to keep the pollen count [in the lungs] down because that is going to stack up if you contract coronavirus,” McCann said.
“The effects of that will likely only add to existing conditions — but again, that’s just speculation, because no one has seen this before.”
A tell-tale sign of symptoms more severe than allergies is the presence of a fever, which McCann said patients rarely show in the midst of seasonal allergy or respiratory problems directly linked to asthma.
“Fever is one thing I generally don’t see in allergies and asthma. It can happen with really high levels, but it’s not common. If you’ve got a temperature of 102, something’s wrong,” McCann said.
“That’s your canary.”
In some cases, taking a daily allergy pill might subdue some of those related symptoms, but it’s never a guarantee. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending that all individuals who are out in public spaces cover their faces with a bandanna, scarf or other mask — even if symptoms aren’t directly related to the coronavirus.
“I think that’s a terrific idea, particularly if you’re having allergy-related symptoms. It’s likely just to be allergies, but at the same time if you’re covering your face, you are less likely to spread any infection you might have, especially if it could possibly be COVID-19,” said Dr. Joseph Evans of Marshall Health.
“Wearing a mask in public isn’t just about trying to prevent being infected from COVID-19. It’s about protecting other folks in case you might be carrying it.”
Evans added that if you’re wearing protective equipment, it’s important to follow simple hygiene tips, particularly washing your hands, in order to further protect yourself and others.
“If you’re wearing a mask but you’re touching that mask constantly with your hands that you aren’t washing, you aren’t doing anything to help,” he said. “The hand-washing is key.”