Signs of spring are blossoming all over New England – but your allergies are probably blossoming too.

Before COVID, you most likely reached for your allergy medication at the first sign of a runny nose or itchy, watery eyes without thinking twice about it. But now if you wake up with a runny nose or scratchy throat, should you take a COVID-19 test instead?

“There’s a lot of overlap in the symptoms of allergies and COVID which makes it challenging,” said Philip Hemmers, DO, an allergist with St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport. “I always recommend patients err on the side of caution and get that COVID test.”

Dr. Hemmers explains that there are symptoms that would be more common with a pollen allergy, such as sneezing and itching, while sore throat, fever, body aches and flu-like symptoms are more likely to be a COVID infection. When in doubt, test.

With three of the nation’s worst cities for people with seasonal allergies located in Connecticut (Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport), Dr. Hemmers expects this year to be a bad one for allergy sufferers.

“We had a fairly mild March, but birch tree pollen is very high now,” Dr. Hemmers said. “This spring season there is going to be very high tree pollen followed by very high grass pollen for the next several months. So we’ll see allergy season here until the end of June.”

To reduce your seasonal allergy symptoms, Dr. Hemmers recommends:

  • Avoid outdoor activities in the morning on days with high pollen counts.
  • Keep windows closed to avoid pollen coming inside.
  • Take a shower after being outdoors to wash off the pollen.
  • Take over-the-counter allergy medication.

If none of those methods relieve your symptoms and your allergies are severe, there are immunotherapy treatment options that can retrain your immune system not to be allergic to pollen.

“Instead of breathing pollen in through your nose or having it come in through your eyes, we bypass that part of the immune system either by giving an injection or tablet of pollen that you can put under your tongue,” he said. “We expose the body to that same pollen that you’re allergic to over and over and over again until the body gets used to it and becomes tolerant.”