By Dr. Brooke Azie-Rentz
The first day of spring has come and gone, we have had some beautiful, warm sunny days, but now it looks like we are back to April showers as I write this article. I hope this means that May will bring us flowers, but more importantly, May will see us emerge from our quarantine (fingers crossed) and blossom with the new found freedom we find in leaving our homes and starting on this new path of normal that includes social distancing, elbow bumps and masks in public spaces. I know this all seems daunting, but this is going to be the new normal for a while and we need to move past the inconvenience, anger and frustration that this has all brought on us and instead figure out how to move on with life and be thankful for all the things we have to be thankful for.
Now comes the $1 million question: Are my symptoms the flu, coronovirus, a cold, or is it just allergies?
So, what are the common symptoms that people are complaining of right now?
Cough, sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, sore throat, low grade fever, feeling run down or tired, skin rashes, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, just to name a few. These symptoms can appear at different times throughout your duration of illness, but I am hoping to give you a couple of pointers so that you don’t have to stress out about getting into your doctor’s office or even going to the urgent care (do not do this if you can help it) and can hopefully try some home remedies to try and sleuth what it is that is ailing you.
Let’s start with allergies. First of all, if you have had allergies in the past, this season has so far been a doozy. If you ever watch the pollen count, over the last few weeks we have seen some very high numbers as all the cherry blossoms, birch trees and grasses all start to bloom. Common symptoms of allergies include itchy, watery eyes, sore throat from post nasal drip, sinus congestion leading to headaches, and low grade fatigue. On occasion, some patients will experience tightness in the chest or wheezing, especially if they also have asthma. All of these symptoms will linger for weeks, may ebb and flow with the weather, and can be remedied by removing the trigger (i.e. going inside, taking a shower, irrigating nose) or taking an antihistamine (either OTC or supplement). Sometimes, trying a treatment to remedy allergies is the best way to rule them out as a potential source of irritant. If things improve, congratulations, you are one of the 50 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies. The good news is this is annoying, but treatable. There are OTC medications and supplements you can take daily or acutely, and there are more permanent solutions like allergy shots or the newer SLIT (sub-lingual immunotherapy) treatments like Allergy Easy that we offer here at AIM (www.allergyeasy.com).
Next up: the common cold.
These symptoms usually come on gradually and worsen over a few days. Symptoms include a stuffy or runny nose, scratchy, tickly throat, sneezing, mild cough, watery eyes, low grade fever, sore throat, achy muscles and joints, mild fatigue, chills and discharge that comes out yellow or green. Though many of these symptoms are uncomfortable, they are usually more on the mild, irritating side and last for less than 2 weeks in total. Usually taking some OTC pain relievers and fever reducers like Tylenol or Ibuprofen can keep most people with a cold in a functioning state. This doesn’t mean you should be working or playing sports, but it means that you are not laid up in bed completely lethargically sick. You should rest, eat healthy foods (like broths with lots of garlic and cayenne) and nurture your body with immune boosting vitamins, minerals and herbs. Remember, things like Tylenol and Sudafed are just Band-Aids. They will help you feel better, less stuffy, lower your fever and even suppress a cough, but they don’t do anything to speed up your recovery! Vitamins and minerals such as C, A, D and zinc along with herbs such as goldenseal, astragalus, and medicinal mushrooms have lots and lots of clinical data supporting their use to decrease the duration and severity of both bacterial and viral infections.
What about influenza, it sounds similar to the common cold and looks a lot like COVID-19? Well, you are correct, that is what makes things so hard right now, but there are some important differences of which to be aware. A flu comes on all at once versus the common cold that sneaks up gradually. Many people will report waking up feeling like they were run over by a truck with intense muscle and body aches. A fever is almost always present with a flu and a lot of times accompanied by chills. People also can have headaches and migraines associated with a flu and will feel weak and fatigued. This is the example of the lethargic person in bed, who is exhausted by walking 20 feet to the bathroom. The flu can also be accompanied by a cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose and in some occasions even vomiting and diarrhea.
If all of these conditions have symptoms that overlap, how can I know what I am experiencing is not COVID-19? Well, long story short, the only true way to know is to have a nasal swab done (trust me, this is not fun) to run a PCR test looking for the virus itself. Though testing for this is more available than it was a month ago, it is still not something we are doing here at AIM and is not widely done outside of facilities that are treating the sickest of the COVID-19 patients, therefore, it’s important to remember that you are risking exposing yourself if you don’t currently have the disease. The known symptoms of COVID-19 include chills, body aches, sore throats, headaches nausea/vomiting, loss of appetite/taste/smell, runny nose, fever, cough and difficulty breathing/constant pain and pressure in chest. There are some other more rare symptoms we are starting to see like rashes, blue lips, and sudden confusion.
The actual symptoms of COVID-19 are taking up to 2 weeks to show up.
This means that you can be infected, and contagious, and feel perfectly healthy. In fact, there are large portions of the population that are asymptomatic carriers of the disease. This means that you could have had the virus, spread it to other people, and had no idea! Last week a random sampling of 3000 people took place in NYC, of which 14% came back positive. When they extrapolated that out to the entire population of NYC, it meant that 1.7 million people would have already had COVID-19. That number is way higher than the 250,000+ positive COVID-19 cases recorded in the entire state! Basically what this means is, you have to assume that either you have it, or the person you are coming in contact with has it. You don’t know if either of you are contagious. So wear your mask and gloves when appropriate, wash your hands diligently, and consider extra precautions like changing/washing clothes and showering when you come in contact with other people as we open up the quarantine.
If you are experiencing any symptoms that I mentioned in this article, feel free to reach out to your AIM provider for a visit. We are seeing patient virtually via Tele-medicne, so just call and we can set up a visit with you, and even do some exam and assessment of your symptoms and condition. We can help you figure out if this is allergies, a cold, or something we need to be more concerned about. Even if you do contract COVID-19, and I hope with all the information that we have been publishing about prevention you are doing everything you can to avoid it, the rate of hospitalization ranges from 8-20% depending on age and underlying disease states. This is good news. It means many people who contract this disease can manage it from home.
Here at AIM, we will always work with you to figure out the root cause of your ailments, but also allow you to be an active participant in your health journey as we teach you the ways to be your own detective and figure out your ailments while also allowing you to manage your health on your own, your own way, with our guidance. That way you learn a little something on how to stay healthy, treat the root cause, and be able to manage both your own and your families health. We will always be just an email, phone call, computer screen, or office visit away to help you be the best, healthiest version of you. Stay safe, stay healthy, and remember, we are here for you.