Allergies & Coronavirus: What's the Difference?

Allergy versus coronavirus symptoms, and Chinese medicine perspectives on both

These days, many people feel worried when they experience their typical spring allergies. This is understandable, as some of the signs of seasonal allergies might crossover with mild coronavirus symptoms. Sometimes allergies might feel like the onset of a cold. But there are key differences here. Seasonal allergies commonly include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, watery, itchy,red, or swollen eyes, and irritated skin. There also might be throat irritation, wheezing, headache or loss of smell. Covid-19 causes a wide range of symptoms (including gastrointestinal disturbances like diarrhea) but usually fever, persistent dry cough, tightness in the chest, aches/muscle pain, headache,sore throat, sudden loss of taste or smell, chills (sometimes very intense chills that cause shaking), shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, and fatigue. While allergies may feel miserable, they never cause chills, body aches or fever.


If you have mild symptoms and are worried it might be coronavirus, take your temperature regularly and monitor yourself closely: do you feel feverish, are you achy, do you have chills, or a dry cough, trouble breathing? These are not seasonal allergy symptoms. If the answer is yes to any of these, do not show up at your doctor’s office or the local Emergency Room! CALL your primary care doctor for instructions first; they will direct you on what next steps you should take and help you schedule a Covid-19 test if you need one. Of course, if you feel short of breath or have chest pain/tightness, experience confusion, or if your lips turn blue, contact your doctor immediately!


In Chinese medicine, seasonal allergies are usually the result of wind-blown pollen in the air- what we call a “wind invasion.” This is a term for the type of imbalance that causes allergy symptoms like rhinitis(runny nose, inflamed nasal passages). Allergies are over-reactions to foreign substances that are not in and of themselves harmful. Likewise, in Chinese medicine, the cause of seasonal allergies is only partly due to the wind-blown pollen; the over-reaction and manifestations are due to an imbalance, typically a deficiency, in some aspect of the body. If there is a deficiency in, for example, the lung or kidney, a patient may be more vulnerable to pollen exposure. If the person has a spleen deficiency, they may present with a lot of mucous in their sinuses. The liver may also be involved, especially if eye irritation is the main complaint.The syndrome may further develop into a wind-cold or wind-heat pattern which can be determined by feeling the pulses and viewing the tongue and by specific features,like whether their nasal discharge is thin or thick, clear or yellow.


Viruses are infectious agents that need a host to live and replicate.The coronavirus might start out as a wind invasion, as it also travels through the air and enters the body through the nose, mouth and eyes, but because the pathogen is virulent, the syndrome transforms and deeply penetrates the layers of the body and becomes noxious. Coronavirus syndromes may evolve into cold damp or phlegm invasion, a wind-heat or wind-cold invasion syndrome, much like the cold or flu, but then the disease might further morph into a more severe damp,stagnation or toxic invasion-type condition and ultimately cause a major deficiency of the lung and spleen, and qi and yin. The disease spreads easily between people and, as we have seen, has a range of outcomes: it can go undetected in healthy individuals, or kill within a short time.


As I mentioned in my previous newsletter, Chinese herbs were administered through infusions to covid-19 patients and given prophylactically to front line healthcare workers. There is no known treatment or cure for this new coronavirus, but one of the Chinese patent medicines used for prevention there was “Yu Ping Feng San.” Interestingly, this formula is often given before allergy season to strengthen resistance for chronic sufferers. I take this formula when I feel a cold coming on and it works well because it contains adaptogenic herbs like astragalus, or huang qi. Strengthening any deficiencies and balancing the body and tonifying immunity is key for both seasonal allergies and coronavirus,or any invading pathogen for that matter. Acupuncture, as most of you know, is helpful for curbing allergy symptoms, but it is also useful for keeping those healthy who have underlying conditions or weakened immune systems.

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