The Newest Conundrum: Covid-19 versus Allergy

Updated: May 1, 2020

With the fear of COVID-19 ever present, plus the lack of toilet paper, eternally dry hands, foggy facemasks, and constant indoor time, somehow, our spring friend pollen still decided to make an appearance this year! Doesn’t she know any better? Allergy season is upon us, and the question is, how do you know whether it’s “just your allergies” flaring up or something more concerning.

Our immune system is a complex and powerful matrix, and when it senses a foreign threat, (an antigen such as pollen, mold, animal dander), it may overreact. That immune system overactivity can lead to the uncomfortable symptoms we all know as "allergies."

When differentiating between allergies and COVID-19 there are a few first steps to keep in mind.

Kind of Symptoms: The most important thing to remember is that allergies rarely cause fever unless you have developed an infection from excessive mucus production, such as a sinus infection. Most often, allergies affect the eyes, causing redness and itching, and lots of sneezing and phlegm in the throat. While mucus and phlegm are reported in 28-33% of reported Covid cases, eye issues and sneezing are much less common. Allergies can give you a headache and make you feel tired, but most often they do not make you feel sick all over or weak. Allergies also do not typically cause you to lose your sense of smell or taste. Still, the hardest symptom to decipher is the cough, which can be one or the other.

Progression of Symptoms: An important difference to note is that allergic symptoms wax and wane, often exacerbated if you go outside. If it's a viral infection, the symptoms progress, worsening for a time before they dissipate. There have been cases of COVID patients feeling better and then getting worse again, but this shifting occurs over longer intervals (as opposed to going outside and coming inside).

Sustainable Treatment: Many allergies are inherited, but Ayurveda teaches us that, in addition to our genetic makeup, other factors are at work. These include the strength of the individual’s digestive fire (agni), the amount of the exposure to the allergen, and the body's current state of balance (vikruti). Thus, remedies are aimed at strengthening our agni, minimizing allergen exposure, and improving our state of wellbeing.

Strengthening Agni: Ayurveda considers a strong agni, or digestive fire, a critical factor in our resilience. When agni is strong, our bodies can absorb, extract, and eliminate. In order to strengthen agni, it is important to eliminate toxins (ama). Ama represents not only physical toxins within our bodies, but also emotional stress that can accumulate in the body and cause us to weaken. Triphala (the Ayurvedic trio of amalaki, haritaki, and bibhitaki,) is an ancient Ayurvedic herb used for strengthening agni and eliminating ama. Trikatu, a combination of black pepper, long pepper, and ginger, taken before your meal, stimulates agni as well. But should be avoided in people with sensitive stomachs.

Minimizing Allergen Exposure: It is very hard to avoid exposure to allergens in the environment. But some simple steps can help protect and remedy. Saline rinses, using a neti pot or aerosolized spray, help flush out foreign material. Much like brushing your teeth, twice daily rinses will wash away antigens before they settle in. Avoid saline drops, as these move quickly through your nasal passages and into your throat before they have time to flush out antigens, and can cause nausea, as if drinking sea water.

Ideally, only after the flushing, apply a small dab of Nasya oil. The oil forms a barrier over the nasal tissues, preventing allergens from attaching. The use of sesame oil with small amounts of essential oils such as eucalyptus, camphor or juniper, help to open up the airways and act as a natural decongestant.

Improving our overall well being: One's current state of balance (vikruti) impacts enormously on the impact of allergic responses within the immune system. The effort must go to soothing the immune system's perceived threat (foreign antigen). Focusing on calming activities (meditation, abhyanga, yoga) allowing yourself to sleep, nourishing your bodies with healthy food, and staying hydrated are critical ways to support balance.

1. Calm your diet: Eat foods that are easy to digest. (Check out our blog on kitchari.) Choose foods that are fresh and simple. Consider cooking with ghee to help extract toxins and soothe the lining of the digestive tract.

2. Ashwagandha is an ayurvedic herb that is an immune modulator which may calm the immune system’s response to allergens. It also acts to soothe the body, and settle the mind.

3. Develop a daily pranayama routine - (see last week's blog.)

4. Exercise daily, for 30 minutes or so, to help stimulate agni and eliminate ama, to bring movement and warmth to the body. And try to laugh as you dance!

Please remember, if your symptoms do not seem familiar, or similar to last year's seasonal allergies, please contact your doctor. You can also arrange for a telehealth appointment.

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