The arrival of spring and summer bring warm weather and sunshine, long days at the beach and longer nights around the campfire, blooming flowers and a bounty of local fruit, and for some, seasonal allergies. While allergies are always difficult to deal with, the 2020 allergy season is shaping up to be particularly challenging for two reasons: COVID-19, and a giant dust cloud heading toward the Gulf Coast.
Is it Allergies or COVID-19?
This dust cloud, known as the Saharan Air layer, will have a size and concentration that hasn’t been seen in fifty years. During the late spring in the northern hemisphere, it moves across the North Atlantic every three to five days and continues to do so until early autumn. It typically reaches peak concentration from late June to mid-August when it can be up to three kilometers (about two miles) thick .
Ok, last dust pic for today and this one is perhaps the most incredible yet. The comparison photos were sent to me from Mirco Ferro who lives in St. Barthelemy. Check the dates in the photos (top is from March) – both are unfiltered or altered in any way. #SAL #DUST pic.twitter.com/FBwOG5ly1E
— Mark Sudduth (@hurricanetrack) June 21, 2020
The problem is that allergy symptoms bear an unfortunate resemblance to the symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus, including sinus congestion, coughing, tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing.
The dust cloud, which has been dubbed the “Godzilla Dust Cloud” by experts, has already blanketed the Carribean, and air quality in the region has reached “hazardous” levels. Pablo Méndez Lázaro, an environmental health specialist at the University of Puerto Rico, is currently working with NASA to develop an alert system when the dust arrives .
The COVID-19 Concern
The concentration of dust over the last several days has been so high that it has had adverse effects on even healthy people, which is why many health experts are concerned for individuals experiencing respiratory symptoms tied to COVID-19.
Dr. McKenna says that if you are experiencing allergy-like symptoms, over-the-counter allergy medications will likely provide relief. He also strongly recommends wearing a mask when you go outside to avoid inhaling so much dust.
“If you do go outside, wear those face masks when you’re outside in general during this time,” he said .
As for distinguishing between COVID-19, allergies, or irritation from the dust, the CDC recommends looking for the following emergency warning signs to indicate when you should be seeking medical attention:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
Of course, this is by no means exhaustive, so if you experience any other symptoms that are severe or that are cause for concern, you should also seek medical attention. If you think you may be sick, you should self-isolate and always wear a mask whenever you must go out in public .
Taking Care of Allergies During COVID-19
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, it is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic for those who suffer from asthma or allergies to keep their symptoms well-controlled.
The organization released the following statement:
“With the COVID-19 pandemic coinciding with the spring allergy season, you may be concerned about using your intranasal corticosteroids for nasal allergies and your inhaled corticosteroids for your asthma. There is no data that continuing these allergy and asthma medications will have any effect on increasing your risk of getting the COVID-19 infection or if you get the infection, lead to a worse outcome. It is important to control your allergy and asthma symptoms as they may lead to misdiagnosis of COVID-19 as there are some overlap of symptoms.” 
Having allergies during the COVID-19 pandemic provides unique challenges, making it even more important for those who may be more likely to experience sneezing or coughing to wear a mask when they leave their homes in order to avoid spreading the virus.
As the “Godzilla Dust Cloud” heads toward the United States, the debate on mask-wearing becomes even clearer: wear them.
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