As high levels of mold and increased cases of COVID-19 hit the Chicago area, the city’s top doctor says he assumes the symptoms are a sign of the contagious virus.
“If you think you have a cold, if you think you have allergies, right now, with how much COVID is around, there’s a good chance it could be COVID,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. “There’s no shame in being diagnosed with COVID, especially when you’ve done everything you can – you’re up to date with your vaccines.”
Chicago is likely to go on high community alert this week, along with Cook County, under guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC data will be updated Thursday evening.
As of Friday, every county in Chicago-area Illinois was at a “moderate community level” of COVID-19 under CDC guidelines, although some were expected to reach the “high” level in this week’s upcoming update. However, eight counties in Illinois are already at high community-level risk for COVID: Boone, Lee, Stephenson, Winnebago, Champaign, Ford, Peoria and Tazewell.
Before self-diagnosing, health officials have said the best way to identify the cause of your symptoms is through testing, especially given some overlap between the coronavirus and seasonal allergies.
“When in doubt, I would say test before you actually go and expose other people,” said Dr. Sai Nimmagadda, allergist at Lurie Children’s Hospital.
This is especially important for those who will be around immunocompromised or vulnerable individuals.
But while allergy season can last for several months and COVID transmission is ongoing, what should you do if your symptoms persist?
“If your test is negative the first time, you should take it again — especially if your symptoms persist or they don’t respond to your traditional allergy medications,” said Nimmagadda.
So is there a way to tell a difference between the two? Experts say it depends on your symptoms.
For those suffering from a fever, there’s a chance it’s not an allergy, health officials said. But in many cases, symptoms for COVID and allergies can overlap.
Here is a list of COVID and allergy symptoms as described by the CDC:
- fever or chills
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- muscle or body pain
- New loss of taste or smell (although doctors have noted that the latest COVID variants do not usually cause a loss of taste or smell)
- Sore throat
- congestion or runny nose
- nausea or vomiting
dr Katherine Poehling, an infectious disease specialist and member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, told NBC News in January that cough, congestion, runny nose and fatigue appear to be prominent symptoms with the Omicron variant.
Even those who receive the coronavirus vaccine can still contract the virus and develop symptoms. However, most vaccinated people have either no or very mild symptoms, according to health officials, and the virus rarely results in hospitalization or death in these people.
The CDC advises seeing a doctor if a person has trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, new confusion, and an inability to wake up or stay awake, as well as pale, gray, or blue skin, lips, or nail beds.
- Symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:
- runny nose
- traffic jam
- Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include:
- red, watery, or itchy eyes
Allergy Score from Loyola Medicine is administered every weekday morning during allergy season by allergist Dr. Rachna Shah updated, according to the Twitter account.
According to Loyola Medicine, Tuesday’s readings were as follows:
Trees – moderate – the most widespread – elm
grass – low
Forms – high
weeds – absent
Trees are in peak season from March through May, while grass is in peak season from May through June, Loyola Medicine noted. Mold is at its peak in both spring and fall – whenever conditions are “humid.”
Loyola Medicine ranks the counts from low to high risk, then “alert.” If an allergen is marked as ‘alert’, sensitive people are advised to stay indoors.