The Perfect Enemy | Allergies or COVID-19? Experts advise on omicron subvariant symptoms
August 11, 2022

Allergies or COVID-19? Experts advise on omicron subvariant symptoms

Allergies or COVID-19? Experts advise on omicron subvariant symptoms  The Cincinnati Enquirer

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You have a scratchy, sore throat. Your nose is running. You’re coughing, and to top it off, you have a headache.

You’ve been here before, you may think. You’ve had allergies. For some, the symptoms started in the spring, and we’re about to enter ragweed season, when allergy symptoms will be screaming, right?

But wait. Are these only allergy symptoms? Or are they the symptoms of the most predominant omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5 now spreading throughout Cincinnati, Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. 

The subvariants have pushed hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases high enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week recommended indoor masking in eight local counties 

We asked area experts about the irritating issue with sym. Here’s what they said.

“Don’t assume it is ‘just allergies,’ ” said Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, infectious disease specialist at UC Health and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

The most common symptoms of the latest subvariants coursing through the region are  scratchy throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, achiness, sore throat and cough, he said. “It is true there may be overlap and confusion with allergies.”

His advice: “If you have sudden onset of new symptoms, test for COVID.”

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Dr. Robert Frenck, a pediatrician and director of the Vaccine Research Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said COVID-19 “unfortunately” does not have symptoms that are exclusive to it. The current symptom combination can suggest anything from environmental allergies to influenza, he said.

Sneezes, sore throat, and a runny nose? Understanding your child’s symptoms can help you treat and protect them.

“The only way to be able to diagnose the infection is with a nasal swab,” Frenck said. “So, what to do?”

If your child has a history of allergies, get COVID-19 testing right away, he said. If the test is negative and subsequent symptoms are “exactly the same,” you can assume it’s allergies, he said. But if your child has symptoms more like those caused by an infection – fever, muscle aches, yellow-green mucus, he said, “You need to do COVID testing.”

Dr. Thomas Lamarre, an infectious disease specialist at the Christ Hospital Health Network, said the subvariants’ symptoms do make it “difficult” to know what to do. Similar to Frenck, Lamarre recommends testing for COVID-19 if your symptoms are new, not typical, or worse than usual.

Add to that some thought about what to do to protect others, Lamarre said, suggesting, “Going to see your elderly grandmother? Perform a home COVID-19 test before your visit just to make sure.”

Dr. Stephen Feagins, Mercy Health-Cincinnati’s chief clinical officer, said what may seem old to many is also tried and true when questioning what to do when infected.

If you test positive, he said, isolate for five days, wear a mask for at least an additional five when you’re not home, consider wearing one at home if others there are at high risk for catching COVID-19, and keep a distance from others.

For those who are not infected but remain concerned about the level of community spread, Feagins – who’s also Hamilton County Public Health’s chief medical officer – suggested thinking about how many people are indoor spaces and unmasked before going someplace.

“If you are uncomfortable, simply leave,” he said. “And it never hurts to wear a mask.”

A masked woman coughs into her elbow.

The advice may all sound familiar. How long have you heard public health guidelines for protection from COVID-19?

But Lamarre noted that people are coming to their decisions from a different place from where they did when the pandemic started.

“Our society has transitioned to a personal risk assessment regarding COVID-19 exposure.”

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All of the experts pointed to vaccines as the best protection from getting COVID-19: 

  • Lamarre – “Vaccines are the key to slowing the pandemic, reducing symptomatic infections, keeping people out of the hospital and saving lives.”
  • Feagins – “The vaccine and booster have been shown to be very effective in preventing severe disease, which means hospitalization. It’s never too late to begin your vaccine series.”
  • Fichtenbaum – “Vaccines are one component that is keeping people out of the hospital. Having some immunity is better than no immunity. Very important to be vaccinated and boosted.”
  • Frenck – “Vaccination is still important and our best protection. Even if you have had COVID, a subsequent vaccine dose will give you added protection.”