With COVID-19 dominating the news, social media, and everyone’s minds right now, we have to also acknowledge that this pandemic is happening right at the height of allergy, cold, and flu season. With several overlapping symptoms, the 50 million people in the U.S who struggle with seasonal allergies are left wondering if their symptoms indicate something more serious lurking beneath the surface (1).
So how to tell the difference between COVID-19, and seasonal allergies, the cold, or flu? And what actions, if any, can we take to stay proactive?
COVID-19 vs. Allergies
Seasonal allergies are present in every region of the country most often beginning in the spring, and extending into summer. They can affect people in minor ways, such as a brief runny nose, or they can severely impact daily function to the point of requiring medical intervention to calm the immune response to pollen or other debris.
Most common allergy symptoms are itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, running nose, and in some cases headache due to a buildup of pressure in the sinuses. Additionally, drainage from the sinuses can often irritate the back of the throat (1).
While allergies tend to be more present above the neck, COVID-19 generally occurs more below the neck with a cough or shortness of breath (2).
Seasonal allergies can also trigger other immune-mediated conditions, such as a flare up of eczema, due to inflammatory proteins produced during the immune response.
The breakaway feature setting seasonal allergies apart from COVID-19 is the absence of a fever. Seasonal allergies alone do not cause a fever, while COVID-19 presents with a fever in about 85 percent of patients (2)
Before you mistake your overactive immune response for COVID-19, evaluate your symptoms from an objective perspective (sometimes it can help to make a list on paper), and don’t rule out birch or ragweed as the culprit of your discomfort!
For natural allergy relief try:
Bromelain – found in pineapple, this enzyme mediates immune response and inflammation (3).
Quercetin – an antioxidant flavonoid that inhibits histamine release and reduces inflammatory cytokine production (4).
Nettle – also called stinging nettle, this plant has immune-modulating effects as well as limiting histamine production (5).
D-Hist has all three, plus vitamin C for extra antioxidant and immune function.
COVID-19 vs. Cold or Flu.
Distinguishing COVID-19 from the common cold or flu becomes a little difficult to determine based on symptoms. All three of these can present with fever, aches, fatigue, and a cough. Many colds tend to stay above the neck with these symptoms, but not in every case, especially if they lead to a secondary infection.
Most health professionals aren’t testing for COVID-19 when presenting with mild symptoms, which is a challenge because up to 80 percent of cases are considered ‘mild’ (6). This means you may not even know you have it, but are still spreading the virus around on surfaces and through coughs and sneezes. Because we’re trying so hard to flatten the curve, the most conservative thing to do is err on the side of caution and keep yourself away from other people if you have symptoms that correlate with COVID-19.
The most prevalent symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath (2).
But remember, chest pain or shortness of breath are not mild symptoms, and you should absolutely call your doctor if these develop.
Does this mean we are powerless in our defense against viruses?
However, we’re seeing a lot of information going around on what will “cure” COVID-19, so let’s discuss what’s actually going on, and the systems that are really involved with virus defense.
COVID-19 Tip #1: Focus on your diet.
We absolutely cannot separate food from a healthy immune response. Food isn’t just calories, but information we use to communicate with our body several times per day.
Foods contain enzymes, phytonutrients, and vitamins that have a synergistic effect in the body to support health, and defend against pathogens.
Eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as broccoli, canteloup, papaya, and all greens. We all know about citrus fruits, but these are some lesser talked about sources. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and helps support the body’s defense systems.
Zinc is also a major component of proper immune response. Great sources are grass-fed beef, chickpeas and other beans, and surprisingly–oysters, which contain 291% of the DV required in just six oysters.
As much as we can incorporate immune-boosting foods, we should also steer away from foods that wear down the immune system. These are inflammatory foods such as high sugar, and foods that are made of mostly white flour.
Tip #2: Sleep
Sleep is your biological renewal, repair, and defense mechanism. Poor sleep hinders proper immune function by dysregulating hormone function, which interferes with the signals required by the immune system.
We see first-hand many people de-prioritizing sleep because of busy schedules, and we also see many who struggle with insomnia through no choice of their own. Although, you’re not powerless against sleepless nights, and you have many easily modifiable factors you can change at home with a little focus.
Take a look at these bedtime snacks, and other changes that can promote the production of melatonin, your body’s sleep hormone. Develop a nighttime routine to put down blue-light devices before bed, and keep your bedroom dark, and cool.
Diffuse essential oils of lavender or chamomile, and don’t underestimate a few moments of meditation just before bed to calm the body. If you have stressors that weigh heavily on your mind, write them down, and give yourself permission to address them in the morning with a clear head.
If you’re still having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, Sleep Savior is formulated with magnesium, melatonin, and magnolia bark to not only help you relax, but to help you achieve a restful night’s sleep.
And, whatever you do, please don’t browse coronavirus news before bed.
Tip #3: Probiotics
With 70% of the immune system residing in the gut, it’s essential we support a diverse and healthy microbiome, so our good bacteria can differentiate between friend and foe (8). The bacteria in our gut help us to do many things–they synthesize neurotransmitters and help to protect our intestinal lining from pathogens.
You can take a high-quality probiotic with 4-5 different strains, or consume more fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, or any fermented veggie. If you ask us, doing both can’t hurt!
Tip #4: Manage stress.
Raise your hand if COVID-19 has stolen several moments of your day continuously for the past few weeks. You stress you worry, and you think of worst-case scenarios. Frankly, some aspects of COVID-19 are legitimately pretty worrying, but that’s why we’re taking measures to flatten the curve and lessen the burden on our healthcare workers. This is part of a global strategy.
That being said, stress is not a friend of immune function. In the short term,
situational stress can actually give the immune function a little boost (think fight-or-flight reaction), but in nature, this response resolves relatively quickly. After stress hormones dissipate, our body’s communication signals resume their baseline function, and we return to calm.
When our stress is continuous and doesn’t resolve, we call this chronic stress, and it can exhaust immune function and cause some of those signaling molecules to go haywire.
To give our immune system a fighting chance against viruses, stress isn’t doing our body any favors.
Want to support stress response and immune function at the same time? The reishi mushroom is used in Traditional Chinese medicine for relaxation, and for supporting free and easy breathing.
Practice self-care in ways that work for you. Whether it’s journaling, baking, or a good talk with a friend, bringing your body back down to a relaxed state helps your immune system function optimally. Plus, self-care for some of us looks a lot like our last tip!
Tip #5: Don’t stop exercising.
With many of our normal workout routines disrupted, we don’t want to replace our active time with time spent on the couch. Exercising promotes circulation, oxygen uptake into cells, and therefore nutrients as well.
When we stop exercising, we decrease circulation to muscles, our brain, and this decreases nutrients available to them as well. Nutrients that help regulate immune function, the health of the cell, and energy production.
Exercise also helps to modulate inflammation produced by everyday, normal metabolic processes. In the battle against chronic, low-grade, and systemic inflammation movement is a pivotal factor in resolving some of this damaging inflammation.
We know gyms are closed. Crossfit, HIIT, Barre–all our favorite workouts have been postponed.
Or have they? For all those who have mastered the workout from home already, the rest of us are about to find out just how serious it can be! We have endless ways to move and train the body, and many companies–big and small–have moved their workouts to streaming services specifically to help everyone get through these challenges.
We’re being presented with ways to adapt our lives to a new situation, and instead of seeing it as an inconvenience, use it as a reason to grow, and to learn more about what you’re capable of.
We are all in this together, and collectively adapting to new challenges while being responsible with our actions.
What have you been doing to keep your immune system in top shape? Needing more support from our providers, but sheltering in place at home? We’ve got you covered with virtual consults. Give us a call today (404) 814-9809 to speak with a provider about the best ways to weather the pandemic.