The world has entered unprecedented times. We are facing widespread quarantines to help stem the rapid spread of COVID-19. The global economy is suffering, businesses are shutting down, and unfortunately, people are losing their jobs. Medical health workers are working at the forefront of the epidemic to save lives, but sometimes risking their own. The global healthcare industry is facing a shortage of medical supplies and a lack of space for the infected. So do your part to fight COVID-19 and help flatten the curve by learning how to differentiate COVID-19 from common allergies and asthma.
What is COVID-19?
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a highly infectious respiratory disease by a new virus strain. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that COVID-19 comes from a family of viruses called the Coronaviruses (CoV) that cause flu-like diseases. Individuals’ experience varies and ranges from developing mild to severe respiratory illness. Examples of coronaviruses are the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
WHO also adds that the virus spreads through contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person which are produced when they cough or sneeze. Additionally, a study states that the virus can stay on some surfaces for hours, and even days. It states that viral particles were detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
Studies have shown asymptomatic transmission. They demonstrate that the people who don’t show any symptoms of the disease are one of the major drivers of the spread. But according to Alex Azar, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services, people should self-quarantine by staying in their homes, to allow medical personnel to focus more on those who are showing signs of the infection.
Symptoms of COVID-19
Symptoms of COVID-19 may begin 2-14 days after exposure. They can range from mild to severe respiratory symptoms that include runny nose, sore throat, fever, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and fever. There are severe cases where the virus causes pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.
- Wash your hands frequently
- Observe social distancing
- Practice proper respiratory hygiene
- Stay Informed
- Seek medical care when sick
- Stay at home
- Wear a mask
What is Asthma?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asthma is a disease that affects your lungs. It is often characterized as a chronic respiratory disease that causes inflammation and narrowing to your airways which makes it hard to breathe. There are severe cases of asthma that negatively affect your health and cause severe respiratory distress. The CDC states that 1 out of 13 people in the US are dealing with asthma. The World Health Organization (WHO) also reports that approximately 235 million people worldwide have asthma. Fatal cases rarely occur in the US, however, fatalities continue to occur in primarily low-income countries.
Coughing, wheezing, and breathlessness are typical symptoms of asthma. Asthma often starts in childhood although, in some cases, it may also develop and affect older individuals. The frequency and severity of symptoms vary from person to person. For example, some people will feel the symptoms at night or while doing rigorous physical activity, but others may have an asthma attack that is unprovoked by identifiable triggers.
Additionally, everyone who has asthma is at risk of an asthma flare. An asthma flare refers to sudden symptoms of worsening. Symptoms include worse wheezing, cough, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Sometimes, it will require immediate medical help. Despite the dangers, people with asthma can live a normal and rewarding life as long as they are treated appropriately. There is no cure for asthma, however, treatments are available to manage symptoms, limit the severity of asthma attacks and prevent asthma flare-ups
What are Allergies?
Allergies occur when the immune system interprets normally safe foreign substances as dangerous. Inflammatory mediators and antibodies are released to help protect our body from the “threat”. This is because your immune system protects your body against harmful bacterias and viruses. Allergens such as pollen, dander, food, and medication are substances that are mistaken by the body as dangerous.
An antibody response is triggered when an allergen enters your body. Previously produced allergen-specific antibodies are attached to mast cells. Mast cells are a type of immune cell that is found in the blood and organs. When an allergen is recognized by its specific antibodies on the outside of mast cells, the mast cell releases various inflammatory mediators, including histamine. Histamine is a compound that causes symptoms of an allergic reaction such as itching, sneezing, and hives.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction can occur in your skin, sinuses, airways, eyes, and nasal passages, as well as other parts of your body. The severity of the allergic reaction may depend on what type of allergen you are exposed to. Environmental allergens cause nasal and respiratory symptoms, such as nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes, and chest tightness. Food allergens typically cause skin and gastrointestinal symptoms, such as hives, itching, nausea, and vomiting.
Connection of COVID-19. Asthma and Allergies?
There is no connection between the three except their symptoms of cough and runny nose. However, there is a connection between asthma and allergies called Allergic Asthma.
Allergic asthma can also be called allergy-induced asthma. It occurs when environmental allergens trigger asthma symptoms. Allergic asthma is the most common type of asthma, affecting 60% of people living with asthma. The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy states that an allergen triggers asthmatic symptoms when it is inhaled into the lungs. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), the immune system produces allergic antibodies known as immunoglobulin E (IgE), which leads to the release of inflammatory substances. It also causes pulmonary inflammation, bronchial tubes narrowing, production of mucus, and compression of the airway, which leads to symptoms of chest tightness, cough, shortness of breath and wheezing.
Common Allergens of Allergic Asthma
Allergic asthma may be seasonal or all-year-round. Common triggers of allergic asthma are the following.
- Pollen – from flowers, trees, grasses, and weeds. It may linger in air ducts and homes throughout the year.
- Housepets – their urine, saliva, hair and animal dander (dead skin cells) are all potential allergens.
- Mold spores and fragments – it grows on damp surfaces and can be found almost everywhere.
- Dust Mites – microscopic spider-like creatures that feed on human skin flakes. The body parts and feces of dust mites are also allergens and can be found in your mattresses, pillows, carpets, furniture, clothing, bedding, and stuffed animals.
- Cockroaches – Their feces, saliva, and body parts are allergens.
If you are experiencing nasal or respiratory symptoms, speak with your healthcare provider to help determine what is most likely contributing to your symptoms. Dr. Amy Schiffman is an asthma and allergy specialist in Boca Raton, Florida. She will be more than happy to help you formulate your allergic rhinitis and asthma management plan.