Allergy season comes every year, but as COVID-19 continues, pharmacies need to ensure that patients know how to identify and treat their symptoms accurately. Nearly 15% of Americans (over 24 million) deal with diagnosed hay fever, according to the CDC. Close to 10% of children have some sort of respiratory allergy. Altogether, seasonal allergies cause around 12 million primary care visits each year. With the continuation of pandemic, it is important to be able to differentiate between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies.
Seasonal allergies generally come with symptoms that can last from a few weeks to an entire season, such as:
- Itchy or watery eyes, nose, or ears
- Nasal congestion
- Occasional sore throats, feelings of fatigue, or headaches due to sinus pressure in severe cases
In some patients, allergies may trigger pre-existing asthma and cause coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, or wheezing.
Seasonal allergy symptoms have caused even more concern in the past year for patients on the lookout for symptoms of COVID-19.
Seasonal Allergies and COVID-19
COVID-19 has been the cause of over 33 million cases and nearly 595,000 deaths in the US since March 2020. While trained pharmacists can easily tell the difference between a case of COVID-19 and seasonal allergies, patients may find it more difficult.
COVID-19’s flu-like symptoms do have some similarities, but there are also quite a few major major differences, such as:
- Dry coughing, rather than sneezing
- Fever and chills, a highly unusual combination for allergic reactions
- Intense fatigue and body aches, uncommon in seasonal allergies
- Loss of taste and/or smell
Infographics spelling out the difference between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies, like this one from Pharmacy U, can be a useful educational tool for your pharmacy.
When you talk to patients about their symptoms, it may also help to run them through a list of questions that will help narrow things down. Cover factors like recent travel, their proximity to COVID cases or common allergens, the time of year, and their history with seasonal allergies.
How Pharmacists Can Help
Pharmacists are perfectly positioned to help patients prevent, treat, and manage seasonal allergies and distinguish their symptoms from potential COVID-19 cases.
A few ideas for your pharmacy to implement:
- Consultations. Develop an open line of communication with your patients by initiating discussions about their symptoms and potential causes. Once you’ve confirmed their allergy and treatment, walk them through the medication options along with their potential side effects and encourage questions about usage.
- Symptom prevention and treatment. Help patients identify potential allergens by walking them through their medical history. Consider their current medications, environment, and family history to pinpoint the culprit and help them prepare for the allergy season with a review of factors that can worsen their symptoms.
If you think their potential allergy symptoms may actually be a case of COVID-19, make sure they get tested as soon as possible.
- OTC solutions. Keep your pharmacy stocked up with OTC medications like decongestants and consider offering dehumidifiers and air filters to support patients who don’t need prescriptions for their allergies. Encourage them to continue to wear masks, which can reduce outdoor allergy symptoms in some cases.
- Social media awareness. Offer proactive advice and education online during allergy seasons on your social media channels. Post allergy tips, advice, and educational content about the difference between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies. Share resources that detail the types of allergies, their severity, and symptoms to promote awareness.
Communication is key, whether you’re dealing with a potential case of COVID-19 or simply another allergy season.
Need help connecting with your patients this year? Learn more about our suite of digital patient communication and engagement tools by getting in touch today.