Pennsylvania’s worst allergy season is upon us.

Some people will surely wonder if they’re coming down with COVID-19.

“In that first couple of days, a little bit of a sore throat, which can occur with allergies, and that nasal congestion and runny nose, they can appear similar,” said Dr. Timothy Craig, an allergy specialist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Fortunately, there are major differences between seasonal allergy and COVID-19 symptoms that can help people distinguish.

For one, people coming down with COVID-19 often lose their sense of smell, which doesn’t happen with season allergies. For another, sneezing is common with allergies but rare with COVID-19.

Beyond that, seasonal allergies don’t produce the severe sore throat, fever and body aches common with COVID-19, according to Craig.

If you’re a long-time allergy sufferer, timing can also help you make the call: If you’re feeling the same allergy-type symptoms you normally feel this time of year, odds are it’s allergies rather than COVID-19, he said.

That said, there’s one major, dangerous symptom that’s common to COVID-19, and a sign of need for immediate medical attention: Severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

For the record, here are the main COVID-19 symptoms:

  • Fever or chills;
  • Coughing;
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing;
  • Fatigue;
  • Muscle or body aches;
  • Sudden loss of sense of taste or smell.

Central Pennsylvania recently entered the spring allergy season, with the main pollen coming from trees. The arrival is signaled by the pink buds on tree branches.

The first phase involves maples, followed by species including oaks and birches, according to Craig.

Because of the intense concentration of trees in the Appalachian mountain range, the tree pollen season is the worst of the year for allergy sufferers in this part of the country, according to Craig. It will last until around mid-May. Then grass will take over as the main pollen source. That can last until July or a little longer if we get a lot of rain.

The next major pollen surge will come in late summer, triggered by ragweed. Ragweed season used to be associated with an Aug. 15 starting date, but that has moved forward as a result of global warming, Craig noted.

While the tree pollen season is just beginning, it’s already time for allergy sufferers to begin taking medication, he said.

“Anybody who hasn’t started taking their medication who is tree allergic should definitely get on it, because it’s easier to treat your symptoms preemptively than to wait until you get symptoms and try to get rid of them,” Craig said.


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