Allergies in a pandemic: Is that sniffle a symptom or just ragweed season?

Posted at 5:27 PM, Sep 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-14 20:36:00-04

CINCINNATI — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Cincinnati is also charging right out of summer and into early fall -- and another form of suffering for many in the region: Ragweed season.

Dr. Ahmed Sedaghat, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati and allergy expert, estimates that, while 10-15% of people nationwide suffer from fall allergies, in the Greater Cincinnati region, it's more like 25% of people.

"This is kind of like the allergy capital of the world, unfortunately," said Sedaghat.

Because of the bowl Cincinnati sits in, and the lack of atmospheric ventilation for air to sweep pollen out of the area, allergies are especially bad in the Queen City. Ragweed can be found in parks, on the side of the road or in backyards throughout the Tri-State. Couple that with a pandemic and it can be hard to determine if a sniffle is a symptom, or just the ragweed.

Typical allergy season symptoms can involve congestion, sneezing, headaches, a runny nose or an itchy throat, similar to many COVID-19 symptoms. However, Sedaghat said the key is watching for a fever.

"Covid patients will have some of these nasal symptoms, but when you compare them to allergy patients, the severity of those nasal symptoms seems to be much worse in allergy patients," he said. "If you're having a fever in association with these symptoms, that would be a reason to think about COVID-19."

Another major distinction between the two is a decreased sense of smell overall, which is a symptom very specific to COVID-19.

For allergy sufferers, the upcoming season could mean a few more stares in public – and the constant threat of sneezing while wearing a mask.

"I don't really care, but people look at you weird, especially in Walmart or something," said David Kraus, a fall allergy sufferer. "You cough and everybody turns and you think the SWAT team is going to come in through the ceiling or something."

Although allergies might seem like a benign thing compared to a deadly pandemic, Sedaghat said it's still important to get allergies under control.

"Poor quality of life, poor sleep which then trickles down to their work, productivity, their ability to spend time with family and loved ones," he said.

The Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency said it expects Cincinnati will see a few high ragweed days this week because of the pleasant weather, but numbers for Monday remained in the moderate range.