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If you or your child suffers from allergies, it will come as no surprise that Greenville ranks on the list of top 30 cities in the nation for seasonal allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's (AAFA) 2021 Allergy Capitals™ report. However, in a season when COVID-19 is still infectious, many parents might question: Is it COVID-19 or allergies?

Dr. Neil Kao of Allergic Disease & Asthma Center, PA, in Greenville said allergy sufferers should brace for a rough spring thanks to rain and early warm weather. 

"Because our weather is so temperate, the pollen seasons here are higher and longer than on average in other areas of the U.S.," he said.

Allergies occur when a person's immune system rebels against a foreign substance, such as pollen or bee venom. Tree pollen is the most common allergen to affect those with allergies during the spring, Kao explained — and it begins producing around mid-March and lasts two to three months in the Upstate. 

He often treats pediatric patients at his practice and said the most common allergens are dust mites, animal dander, and mold spores, which can affect a person year-round. Pollen only tends to affect people in the spring and fall, he pointed out.

According to AAFA's website, symptoms of allergies can include runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, cough, rashes, and decreased ability to smell or taste. Symptoms range from mild to severe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the symptoms for COVID-19 include fever, cough, runny nose, congestion, and a new loss of taste or smell. Symptoms can be mild or severe. With so many similar symptoms, it can be challenging to determine whether you have allergies or COVID-19, Kao admitted.

He said there's only one way to know for sure — a COVID-19 test. 

Kao said there's a misconception that people who suffer from allergies are more prone to contracting the coronavirus.

"People with allergies are not more prone to getting COVID-19," he said. "They are not."

He said having allergies also does not make COVID-19 symptoms worse, adding that people with asthma are only at risk of complications from the coronavirus if they aren't managing their asthma before contracting the virus.

He encouraged anyone who has asthma to monitor their symptoms to be aware of minor changes, which can grow into severe complications if not treated.

"If you know you have asthma, and it's like, 'Look, man, I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, but I'm still having pressure in my chest. What do I do?' You call your specialist," Kao said. 

Your doctor can review all of your symptoms and prescribe medication that can help, he added.

He said parents should continue to take COVID-19 seriously and consult a doctor about their child's symptoms if they resemble the coronavirus. Whether it's COVID-19 or allergies, the best treatment is an early one.

"It is a proven fact that people who start their allergy medications before the start of the season are able to tolerate the symptoms much better than people who just wait until they can't take anymore and then start taking medicines," he said. "By the time you start taking medicines, it's very hard to catch up, and you are just miserable."

He compared the scenario to trying to stay dry in the rain. If you wear a raincoat before you go outside in the rain, parts of you will remain dry. If you put a raincoat on after you're already wet, you're still wet, he said.

"It's the same with allergies," Kao said. "It's best to get ahead of the game."

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