Allergies & Coronavirus: What's the Difference?

Allergy versus coronavirus symptoms, and Chinese medicine perspectives on both

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


If you have mild symptoms and are worried it might becoronavirus, take your temperature regularly and monitor yourself closely: doyou feel feverish, are you achy, do you have chills, or a dry cough, troublebreathing? These are not seasonal allergy symptoms. If the answer is yesto any of these, do not show up at your doctor’s office or the local EmergencyRoom! CALL your primary care doctor for instructions first; they willdirect you on what next steps you should take and help you schedule a Covid-19test if you need one. Of course, if you feel short of breath or have chestpain/tightness, experience confusion, or if your lips turn blue, contact your doctorimmediately!


In Chinese medicine, seasonal allergies are usually theresult of wind-blown pollen in the air- what we call a “wind invasion.” This isa term for the type of imbalance that causes allergy symptoms like rhinitis(runny nose, inflamed nasal passages). Allergies are over-reactions to foreign substancesthat are not in and of themselves harmful. Likewise, in Chinese medicine, the causeof seasonal allergies is only partly due to the wind-blown pollen; the over-reactionand manifestations are due to an imbalance, typically a deficiency, in someaspect of the body. If there is a deficiency in, for example, the lung orkidney, a patient may be more vulnerable to pollen exposure. If the person hasa spleen deficiency, they may present with a lot of mucous in their sinuses. Theliver 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 whichcan 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 throughthe air and enters the body through the nose, mouth and eyes, but because thepathogen is virulent, the syndrome transforms and deeply penetrates the layersof the body and becomes noxious. Coronavirus syndromes may evolve into colddamp or phlegm invasion, a wind-heat or wind-cold invasion syndrome, much likethe 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 majordeficiency of the lung and spleen, and qi and yin. The disease spreads easilybetween people and, as we have seen, has a range of outcomes: it can goundetected in healthy individuals, or kill within a short time.


As I mentioned in my previous newsletter, Chinese herbs wereadministered through infusions to covid-19 patients and given prophylactically tofront line healthcare workers. There is no known treatment or cure for this newcoronavirus, but one of the Chinese patent medicines used for prevention there was“Yu Ping Feng San.” Interestingly, this formula is often given before allergyseason to strengthen resistance for chronic sufferers. I take this formula whenI feel a cold coming on and it works well because it contains adaptogenic herbslike astragalus, or huang qi. Strengthening any deficiencies and balancing thebody 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 helpfulfor curbing allergy symptoms, but it is also useful for keeping those healthywho have underlying conditions or weakened immune systems.

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