Seasonal allergy sufferers hit hard this spring in southern Alberta
CALGARY -- Many Calgarians look forward to spring each year but it's also a season that some dread.
It's a time when the snow disappears, which can leave behind mould on grass. Plant life starts to wake up outside, spreading pollen in the air, and things start to turn green.
"Allergy sufferers have that love-hate relationship," said Brian Jones, a pharmacist at Evergreen Shoppers Drug Mart.
"They love the flowers, they love the trees, but they can't see, they can't breathe and with COVID-19 right now, they're worried that people are going to give them a hard time for being out and being sick."
Seasonal allergies impact people differently. For many it's an annual event.
Urgent care doctor and family physician Dr. Raj Bhardwaj says the most common signs are sneezing, itchy eyes, runny or stuffy nose and a cough. But those symptoms are similar to COVID-19.
"Seems that every year there's some people who develop allergies for the first time," said Bhardwaj.
"When that happens, it's really hard to know is it allergies or is it COVID, so a lot of the time we end up swabbing them just to make sure."
Brian Jones is talking to anxious people who are coming to him for seasonal allergy advice because they're feeling judged by others who think they might have COVID.
"Of course, a sneeze, you can hear that from anywhere in the store," said Jones. "You can tell people nowadays, they're like, 'who's that, are they around me?' Their nose is watering they're visibly sick when their eyes are swollen, it's not easy for (allergy sufferers)."
People with seasonal allergies know that a sneeze can't be controlled and many times they end up sneezing while still wearing a mask.
"Oh man, sneezing in your mask is terrible," said Bhardwaj. "I've done it because I have a little bit of allergies, I would say a couple of things, it's always a good idea to have few of masks on hand because you don't want to sneeze into your mask and then have to live with the sneeze inside your mask for a while."
There are all kinds of over-the-counter allergy medication that will help control symptoms. A pharmacist can help in choosing the right one. But there are also some tips that don't involve pills or sinus sprays.
"Shower before going to bed," said Bhardwaj. "Cause if you've got a bunch of pollen and stuff in your hair then it can at least prevent you from sleeping on your hair all night and getting exposed to that. And another thing is daily sinus rinses."
Jones suggests paying attention to pollen counts.
"When it says it's going to be a high pollen count start taking your antihistamine early because if you get behind the allergies, you're chasing them, stay ahead of them," he said.
Healthcare professionals say because the symptoms of seasonal allergies and COVID-19 are so similar, they might end up missing some COVID-19 cases.
"But we should be relatively limited in our in person interactions right now," said Bhardwaj.
"We know that in a substantial amount of people COVID gives only relatively minor symptoms and we also know that case counts in Alberta right now are sky high."
If in doubt, doctors say the best advice is to book an appointment and get tested for COVID-19.