Almost 15% of Americans (over 24 million) have diagnosed hay fever, According to the CDC. Almost 10% of children have some kind of respiratory allergy. In total, seasonal allergies cause about 12 million primary care visits each year.
Seasonal allergies are usually accompanied by 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 throat, feeling tired or headache due to sinus pressure in severe cases
In some patients, allergies can trigger pre-existing asthma and cause coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, or wheezing.
Seasonal allergy symptoms have caused even more concern over the past year for patients on the lookout for COVID-19 symptoms.
Seasonal allergies and COVID-19
COVID-19 has been the cause of more than 33 million cases and nearly 595,000 deaths in the United States since March 2020. While trained pharmacists can easily tell the difference between a case of COVID-19 and allergies seasonal, patients may find it more difficult.
The flu-like symptoms of COVID-19 have some similarities, but there are also a few major differences, such as:
- Dry cough, rather than sneezing
- Fever and chills, a very unusual combination for allergic reactions
- Severe fatigue and body aches, rare in seasonal allergies
- Loss of taste and / or smell
Infographics explaining the difference between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies, such as this one from the pharmacy U, can be a useful educational tool for your pharmacy.
When talking to patients about their symptoms, it can also be helpful to present them with a list of questions that will help you narrow things down. Cover factors such as recent travel, their proximity to COVID cases or common allergens, time of year, and their history of seasonal allergies.
How can pharmacists help
Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to help patients prevent, treat and manage seasonal allergies and distinguish their symptoms from potential cases of COVID-19.
Some ideas to implement in your pharmacy:
- Consultations. Develop an open line of communication with your patients by engaging in discussions about their symptoms and potential causes. Once you have confirmed their allergy and treatment, explain the medication options to them along with their potential side effects and encourage them to ask questions about the use.
- Prevention and treatment of symptoms. Help patients identify potential allergens by providing them with their medical history. Take into account their current medications, environment, and family history to identify the culprit and help them prepare for allergy season by looking at factors that may make their symptoms worse.
If you suspect their potential allergic symptoms may in fact be a case of COVID-19, make sure they are tested as soon as possible.
- OTC solutions. Keep your pharmacy stocked with over-the-counter medications like decongestants, and consider offering dehumidifiers and air filters to help patients who don’t need prescriptions for their allergies. Encourage them to continue to wear masks, which reduce symptoms of outdoor allergies in some cases.
- Social media awareness. Offer proactive online advice and education during allergy season on your social media channels. Post allergy advice, tips and educational content on the difference between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies. Share resources that detail the types of allergies, their severity, and their symptoms to promote awareness.
Communication is essential whether you are dealing with a potential case of COVID-19 or just another allergy season.
Need help communicating with your patients this year? Learn more about our suite of digital communication and patient engagement tools by contacting us today.