Why allergy sufferers MUST take their meds amid the pandemic: Inflammation triggered by pollen could put them at greater risk for viruses like COVID-19
- More than 50 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies
- Data does not yet suggest more allergy sufferers get coronavirus, but past studies suggest they may be at greater risk of contracting other viruses
- Both allergies and coronavirus attack the respiratory system, including the nose, throat and lungs
- Allergies trigger inflammation, which can lower the defenses that protect the respiratory tract
- Experts say that allergy sufferers shouldn’t panic that they’ll get COVID-19, but should make sure they take their medications to protect their immune systems
The coronavirus pandemic is still approaching its peak in the US – and so is allergy season.
Although there isn’t yet data to link allergies to coronavirus risks, experts warn that keeping allergies in check may be important to ensuring the body can fight off viruses like COVID-19.
Seasonal allergies that strike more than 50 million Americans every year are caused by an immune system mix-up that makes our bodies attack harmless substances like tree pollen as though they were pathogens, causing a flood of inflammation.
That inflammation itself can damage your airways and lungs, weakening their defenses against legitimate threats, like coronavirus.
And if the virus does attack someone already impaired by allergies or asthma the effects could be compounding, particularly if a ‘cytokine storm’ – an out-of-control infux of immune cells – occurs.
Allergy sufferers should make sure to take their medications amid the pandemic as an excessive immune response to triggers like pollen could weaken their defenses against viruses, like COVID-19 (file)
Symptoms of allergies – an itchy, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes – are really symptoms of the body’s immune response to the allergen.
Mucus production ramps up in an effort to wash out the irritant, and immune cells rush to misguided rescue.
‘You inhale your allergen, say pollen, through your nose. And that’s why you have nasal itching, runny nose and watery, itchy eyes,’ Brigham and Women’s Hospital Allergist Dr Lakiea Wright told CNN.
‘That creates a lot of inflammation that can weaken your body’s barriers, and it might be easier for viruses to come in.’
Inflammation happens as a result of the rush of white blood cells and other immune cells to the site of a threat – usually an infection or injury.
But when those healing cells reach their destination only to find that there aren’t actually any viruses, bacteria or traumas there to go to work on, they start to pick at healthy tissues instead.
And if inflammation persists for a long time, becoming chronic, whether or not there is a legitimate threat, the healthy surrounding tissue will eventually suffer collateral damage.
Patients with chronic health conditions like lung disease are particularly at risk for coronavirus. It’s not clear if allergies raise risks for the infection, but they may make people more vulnerable to viruses (file)
Allergies, by definition, are a result of the immune system striking out at a perceived that that isn’t really there, meaning these defender cells may go to work attacking the healthy tissues.
What’s more, mucus production increases with allergies.
While mucus protects the air passageways in the lungs from damage, but too much mucus can actually make the cells that make up these airways more vulnerable to infections like coronavirus.
Troublingly, both seasonal allergies and coronavirus attack the respiratory system, including the nose, throat and lungs.
If and when that infection does occur, the body then has a second trigger for an immune response, redoubling the already increased level of inflammation.
And in coronavirus patients, it’s the out-of-control inflammation that devastates the lungs, leaving patients in desperate need of ventilators, which are in short supply.
There isn’t yet data on the proportion of coronavirus patients in general, those in ICUs or those who have died who had allergies.
But the potential for allergies to raise the risks for and compound the effects of the virus that’s killed more than 15,000 Americans is just one more reason to stay inside as much as possible to limit pollen exposure, and keep up with allergy medications that will keep the immune response to allergens in check.
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